University researchers are working with a local water development board to study the potential of piping Missouri River water to Rapid City and western Pennington County.

The study is being conducted by four faculty members and three students at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Their work is funded by a $37,341 contract with the West Dakota Water Development District.

While hearing an update on the study’s progress during a water-district board meeting Monday evening, board member Nathan Gjovik described the study as important to the future of the Rapid City region.

“From my perspective, this is the kind of project that this board is set up to try to develop,” Gjovik said.

The water district includes the area west of the Cheyenne River within Pennington County. Property owners in the district pay a tax of 2.4 cents per $1,000 of valuation, which generates about $230,000 in annual revenue. The district is operated by a nine-member board of elected directors, with a stated mission of “partnering with state and local entities to protect water resources.”

Since 1976, the district has held a future-use permit to annually withdraw up to 10,000 acre-feet of water (equivalent to more than 3 billion gallons) from the Missouri River.

The permit has never been used for a water project, but the district has renewed the permit every seven years. The most recent renewal was in 2017 for a fee of $895.

In March 2018, two professor emeriti from the School of Mines presented the water district’s board with a proposed study to examine potential future uses of the permit. In July, the board cast the second of two required votes to fund the study.

Kurt Katzenstein, an associate professor of geology and geological engineering at Mines, is now leading the study. On Monday evening, he presented a progress update during a water district board meeting at the West River Electric Association building in Rapid City.

Katzenstein said there are three study objectives: examining the potential growth in population and water demand for the Rapid City area; documenting the area’s current water supplies, sources and rights; and analyzing options for not only the water district’s future-use permit, but also the city of Rapid City’s future-use permit for up to 28,880 annual acre-feet of Missouri River water.

So far, according to a chart presented by Katzenstein, the research team’s preliminary projections indicate that if Pennington County's population grows, locally available water resources could be fully tapped as early as about 2040 with prolonged droughts or as late as about 2070.

That does not mean the area's aquifers, lakes and streams will be drained by then. It means a point will have been reached at which further increases in usage could outpace the natural replenishment of water resources.

“We’re working further on that now to try to understand, ‘where is this line you don’t want to cross as far as use is concerned?’” Katzenstein said.

The team is also studying pipelines to learn the possible cost of piping Missouri River water to the Rapid City area, whether a new pipeline project could piggyback on existing pipeline rights-of-way, and where pumping stations would need to be located.

After listening to the presentation Monday evening, Gjovik expressed his hopes for the team’s final report, which is due this summer. Gjovik said he wants a report with tiered options for projects to bring Missouri River water to the Rapid City area.

“I don’t want this just to be another study that sits on somebody’s shelf and gathers dust,” Gjovik said. “I want this to be a good expenditure of taxpayer funding that we can use to present to decision-makers.”

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."