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Watershed task force suggests some possible directions on drainage

PIERRE — Members of South Dakota's watershed task force laid out several concepts Thursday that could help address some causes of rural flooding.

The task force, manned primarily by current and former legislators, will meet again at a date yet to be determined for later September.

The members would further discuss how to proceed toward any formal recommendations.

All of the potential changes considered Thursday would need approval by the Legislature.

Three subcommittees delivered reports on their work.

One recommended county governments continue deciding whether they want to have drainage permitting boards but the application information be consistent for participating counties.

The proposal also calls for counties to be allowed to delegate drainage permitting authority to one or more watershed districts operating within a county.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources would be asked to create a statewide drainage tracking system and a technical assistance program for counties relating to drainage regulation.

Another subcommittee recommended creating 11 basin councils to oversee drainage and other natural resources issues.

The 11 councils would be based on the existing county-level conservation districts, which don't have any taxing authority or legal authority over drainage.

The basins would be the Red, Little Minnesota, Big Sioux, Vermillion, James, Upper Missouri Trench, Lower Missouri Trench, Little Missouri and Moreau-Grand, Belle Fourche, Cheyenne and the White-Niobrara.

The state's water development districts, whose boundaries don't necessarily follow drainages, wouldn't be eliminated.

A basin council's members would be selected through caucus systems from conservation district board members rather than be chosen in general elections. The councils would be funded through additional property taxes.

Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Aberdeen, said the councils would need the same legal-liability protections that county commissioners want for decisions on drainage issues.

The third subcommittee wants to look at creation of retention ponds. The task force's chairman, Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, said he's seeking five nominees for a test project, preferably along a state highway that faces flooding.

"I think we made a lot of progress today," Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said. He is the task force's vice chairman. "I think we've come a long way."