The most contentious discussion of the week took place in the Senate Ag Committee on Thursday with Senate Bills 9 and 10. These two bills address the longstanding SDFU issue of water management through watershed districts. Both bills were the recommendation of the River Basin Natural Resource District Oversight Advisory Task Force. Since the bills addressed the same subject matter, the committee decided to take testimony on both bills simultaneously, but would vote on them independently.
Senate Bill 9 simply provided the geographic specifics of each district. Each district and sub-district was zeroed in to the smallest degree feasible. The biggest contention with SB 9 was the omission of the Class 1 municipalities. This concern is nothing new as it has been an issue of contention since the conversation on watershed districts first began. However, it was enough of a concern to illicit a NO vote from Senators Deb Soholt and Ernie Otten; both representing the Class 1 municipality of Sioux Falls.
Most of the discussion on the issue dealt with Senate Bill 10. In SB 10, dates for elections of districts were set with the Red River Basin set for 2018 and the remaining districts set for 2020. The districts would have no taxing authority under the bill. The opponents of SB 10 cited the perceived lack of a pilot project as the main concern. However, proponents acknowledged that the Red River Basin would serve as a pilot, being the only district activated in 2018. This would allow the elected officers of that basin to work with the River Basin Taskforce during the taskforce's final two years of activity. Not to mention that each river basin district is so geographically different that a true pilot doesn't make much sense when the water management plan of one district will look so much different than even its neighboring district.
SDFU stood strongly as one of many proponents in favor of the legislation and provided the committee with a summary of study done in cooperation with SDSU to identify the effect of meandering water in the Prairie Pothole Region. The study showed the % of land lost to surface water and its economic impact. The study highlighted the importance of water management and the devastating effects of mismanagement or lack thereof. With trends in climate potentially making the issue worse, we do not have time to waste in setting up proper water management practices through natural watershed districts.
The discussion occupied the majority of the committees two hour time slot and could have gone longer had time allowed. When it was time to act on the bills, the committee attempted to employ an age old tactic in the legislature "defer to the 41st day." This motion kills the bill by deferring it to a time that exists outside of the session's 38 day time frame. Senators Jason Frerichs and Troy Heinert attempted to force a vote on the bill by substituting a due pass motion but unfortunately unsuccessful. Both bills were ultimately deferred to the 41st day by a vote of 7-2.
This issue continues to be a priority for SDFU and we will continue to bring attention to it until it is resolved. We are not done yet by any means.
If you would like to listen the discussion on the bills, including SDFU testimony, follow the link below:
For more information on the bills, follow the links below: