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Mayors, lawmakers make pitch to spend $1.8 billion for Missouri River water

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The foundation needs to be set for future water needs in Black Hills communities, area mayors said Wednesday morning.

Mayors Steve Allender of Rapid City, Larry Larson of Box Elder, and Teresa Hall of New Underwood talked about the need for working together as a region to bring Missouri River water to western South Dakota during the “Water is Our Future” summit.

Panel participants throughout the event discussed funding, what already exists to get the project moving, and the necessity to build a 171-mile system to bring water to the area. The project has an estimated cost of $1.87 billion.

State Reps. Tina Mulally, Tim Goodwin, Mike Derby, Becky Drury, Mary Fitzgerald and Scott Odenbach, and Senators Jessica Castleberry and Helene Duhamel attended the event. Public Works employees from Rapid City, engineers from local companies, and representatives from Elevate Rapid City also attended.

Allender said this is not an issue for today but will be an issue in the future.

“I think the most noble thing in public service is to spend your time building a foundation for someone else to stand up, and that's what this is,” he said. “This is a big deal. It’s a big deal for your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s not necessarily a big deal for you and me, we’ve got enough water to outlast us.”

Scott Kenner, an engineer and former professor with South Dakota Mines, said the projected demand for water based on average growth in the area will surpass supply by 2120.

Engineer Mark Anderson said pulling water from the Madison Aquifer also isn’t sustainable since it’s a vulnerable source of water subject to drought.

“I think this is a really excellent thing that we’re doing here at this point because the worst time to try to figure out how to solve your water supply problem is of course when the well’s gone dry,” he said.

Cheryl Chapman with Western Dakota Regional Water System said there are needs today that still need to be met. She said there’s a request for 49.1 million gallons of water a day and current usage is 38.3 million gallons of water per day in West River. The potential need by 2075 is 96.6 million gallons a day.

Duhamel said the time is now to move forward with the project and that money given to the state needs to be used on something “big, transformational and generational” like the water system. 

“We need to know that everyone has skin in the game,” Duhamel said. “It is time, the need, the interest and funding have all come together right now to supplement current West South Dakota water resources to meet future needs.”

Andy Bruels, director of Financial and Technical Assistance with the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said Gov. Kristi Noem’s budget includes $600 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to support water and sewer infrastructure improvements across the state. He also said the DANR received 193 new applications totaling just under $3 billion for projects for the state water fund. 

He said there were 250 eligible projects from prior years that were not fully funded that the state board of Water and Natural Resources considered for additional subsidy, which totaled over $3.2 billion.

“It’s a wide range of projects, nothing that we’re not used to seeing in funding, but a much bigger dollar amount,” he said. 

The projects included an about $4 million feasibility study for the regional water system for the 171-mile system.

Hall said New Underwood’s budget is different from Rapid City’s but it makes sense for communities to invest in water coming from the Missouri.

“If you’re not in, you’re out — water is life,” she said. “I mean, it’s basically down to that.”

Allender said it seems unrealistic for a local entity to start pledging dollars at this point since when they do receive funds, it goes toward immediate needs and projects. 

He said it’s hard to conceptualize how much the city can spend and on what timetable at this point.

“I think ultimately when it comes time for the project to be funded, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the downstream users to contribute something,” Allender said.

Larson said Box Elder is currently in the process of digging a well and has another planned after the first is completed. He said the city is experiencing growth at 6% to 10% each year.

“It makes sense, I guess, to say that we should probably invest something in water coming from the Missouri because it would probably save us from digging a well or two or three or whatever over those 20 plus years,” Larson said. 


— Contact Siandhara Bonnet at

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