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As Lewis and Clark nears completion, plans begin for second 'big pipe'

The Missouri River
National Park Service
The Missouri River

Over two decades after it first received funding, the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System is near completion. But developers are already looking to build a second pipeline to the Missouri River.

Troy Larson is executive director of Lewis and Clark. In a lecture for the Big Sioux River and Sustainability Summit he said a second “big pipe” is needed to maintain growth in Sioux Falls and other communities.

“For those who may have thought that Lewis and Clark was the end all to the water needs of this part of the country, sorry to pop your bubble, but no,” Larson said. “Sioux Falls needs more water, the vast majority of Lewis and Clark’s 20 cities and rural cities need more water.”

Several rural water projects have been proposed in South Dakota. Those plans include a project in the northeast part of the state, as well as a proposed $2 billion dollar project that could service the western half of the state.

Water 2040 Steering Committee
One early concept for the Water 2040 project proposes delivering treated water from the Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson to various rural water systems across southeastern South Dakota. The system could also serve Sioux Falls.

Larson sits on the steering committee for “Water 2040,” an effort to address demand in South Dakota's southeastern region. One proposed concept would involve tapping the Missouri at Big Bend Dam and delivering treated water to rural systems across eastern South Dakota.

In the meantime, developers are working to define and quantify South Dakota’s water resources. Jay Gilbertson manages the East Dakota Water Development District. He said the state should provide information to the private sector about underground resources. Gilbertson pointed to a North Dakota project that maps water availability to guide development.

“They’re encouraging [companies] to go here, not there. And we could certainly do some of that in eastern South Dakota,” he said.

But according to Larson, conservation efforts can only “bide us time” before more pipelines enter service.

“We have to conserve, absolutely we have to conserve,” he said. “But conserving is not the answer that will not solve our long-term water needs.”

Larson believes eastern South Dakota is not making enough use of the Missouri River’s water.

“We are letting a lot of water from the Missouri flow by us that we should be tapping into,” he said. “We need to quit wasting water. And I'm not talking about leaving your faucet on, but we need to tap more into the Missouri River.”

Larson claims additional projects are important so South Dakota can “be there first” regarding the Missouri’s resources.

“If we don't tap into it, you're going to have projects from Utah, California, Arizona, wherever they need water, whatever it costs,” he said. “They're going to come get Missouri River water.”

Larson noted “there is no fear of draining the Missouri River” given existing flow rates.

Slater Dixon is a junior at Augustana University studying Government and Data Science. He was born in Sioux Falls and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.
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