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Public Wants Legislative Solution On Non-Meandering Water

Lee Strubinger

The first of two legislative hearings on non-meandered waters is being held in Aberdeen. Many testifiers focused on the economic benefit fishing has in Northeastern South Dakota.

Some sportsmen say they want a solution that also makes landowners happy.

Water has flooded private property in Day County for decades, and hunters, fishermen and women, and outdoors-people have constitutional access to that water. This has created a rift between landowners and recreationist.

The South Dakota Supreme Court recently declared non-meandered waters off limits unless the legislature declares otherwise.

That means no more access to Lynn Lake, a non-meandering body of water.

Paul and Karen Johnson operate the Lynn Lake lodge near Webster. It’s a fishing and hunting cabin. Many similar businesses have sprung up as a result of the water in the area.

During the summer study hearing on non-meandered waters, Johnson says the drop in business is like a slow death.

“We have seen, legitimately, an 86 percent decrease, drop in our income from last year. Paul and I are living off of our savings right now, and we’re depleting that very quickly," Johnson says. "Since the recent court ruling, we’ve had minimal business. This has been devastating to us and probably to anyone who’s had the courage to look at their numbers that’s in the same type of business that we are.”

South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks says outdoor recreation generates $1.3 billion dollars annually for the state. Landowners in Day County say the money generated from fishing could easily be made up in the ag sector, if only they could farm their land. They say better water management is a part of the solution.

Credit Kent Osborne / SDPB
Turnout for day one of hearings

Some sportsmen, like Travis Sichmeller of Aberdeen, say there has to be compromise for the landowners…

“Because we want them on our team," Sichmeller says. "As sportsmen, we’d love to be able to walk up and get access to hunt easily and not get turned down and not get deflated by ‘absolutely not.’ That’s important to us sportsmen, to be able to have landowners and that good relationship with them.”

Lawmakers will take additional testimony Wednesday morning before adjourning.