South Dakota delegation backs Corps of Engineers revoking water supply rule

Rule change will allow for more local control

The United States flag and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flag fly at Gavins Point Dam in March 2019. (Republic file photo)

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers policy change announced this week was commended this week by the South Dakota congressional delegation.

The corps has rescinded a 2008 letter directed toward easements regarding water supply storage and surplus water agreements. It also allowed the corps to restrict state access to the Missouri River and blocked access to some Native American tribes. The rule had required applicants sign a water supply agreement and pay the Corps of Engineers for water use.

U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds (both R-S.D.) and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) had a joint announcement announcing their support for the decision. Thune said the decision will allow for more local access to rivers.

“Rescinding this policy letter takes another important step toward restoring traditional access to the Missouri River for states like South Dakota without undue interference from the federal government,” said Thune. “I’ll continue to work with the state and the Corps to ensure that state access rights are permanently preserved.”

The corps said rescinding the policy letter will allow the rules to align with newly updated policy, guidance and processes for review of water supply withdrawal requests.


“I want us to be faster when dealing with water supply users,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This action will allow the Corps of Engineers to be faster and more efficient with water supply requests by streamlining processes, reducing complexity, and integrating districts with applicants.”

“South Dakotans believe in local management,” said Johnson in a statement. “I’m grateful the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rescinded this out-of-touch rule and recognized the state’s rights to access the Missouri River water.”

“The Corps’ decision to rescind this policy letter will ease the regulatory burden on state, tribal and local governments,” Rounds added. “South Dakotans are best equipped to determine how to use the water within their borders, not the federal government. This decision shows that the Corps’ is finally listening to our concerns. Additionally, I’m grateful that the Chief of Engineers took action to expedite the permit request process, which will be of great benefit to the people of South Dakota. This is a positive step forward, but there is more work to be done to preserve state water appropriation rights.”

The issue is the latest dealing with water rights this year. In September, Rounds and Thune were among the members of Congress who sent a letter to the corps asking that they pause the Water Supply Rule. The corps subsequently paused the process of approving a new rule for a minimum of six months to work with states, tribes and other stakeholders.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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