Pollution And Recreation On The Big Sioux

Jul 11, 2016
Water testing
Erin Mairose

Water testing on the Big Sioux River shows high levels of bacteria and pollution in some areas. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources recommends only having limited contact with the water, meaning they don’t suggest swimming in it.

But the city of Sioux Falls continues to build parks and recreation areas along the river, in the effort to foster economic development.


The EPA and the National Institute of Health are funding a new project to examine potential impacts of pollution in Indian Country.

The Center for Indigenous Environmental Health Research is based at the University of Arizona.   

Researchers are focusing their work on environmental health problems in Indian Country

DENR Report: 143 Impaired Water Bodies In SD

May 4, 2016
Kealey Bultena / SDPB

A new report by the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources lists 143 of South Dakota's streams, lakes, and rivers as impaired or polluted.

The DENR reports pollution in surface water to the EPA every two years.


Lawmakers finished their final day of work for the 2016 legislative session. They discussed five measures on veto day, ultimately agreeing with the Governor in all but one style and form veto.   Senate Bill 136, which incentivizes grassland buffer strips along waterways, failed to make it through both houses of the legislature.

Permitting Poop: Groups Want More Say In Feedlot Regulations

Sep 15, 2015

Feedlots and chicken farms can create tons of manure, literally.
Now some environmental and industry groups are crying foul over a state government permitting process that governs how large animal confinement operations deal with all that waste.
The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources is reviewing its regulations for hog farms, dairies, feedlots, and chicken farms where thousands of animals can be grown in a single location.

CO Mine Wastewater Spill Highlights SD Cleanup Plan

Aug 13, 2015
Amy Varland

A recent spill of 3 million gallons of mine wastewater from an EPA Superfund Site in the Rocky Mountains turned Colorado’s Animus River orange.

South Dakota and other states across the west are dotted with abandoned mines that are now being cleaned up by government regulators.

Currently the Gilt-Edge Superfund Site in the Northern Black Hills has 68 million gallons of mine wastewater stored in holding ponds.     

But EPA and state officials are undertaking a $50 million project to reduce the annual cost of water treatment.

New Rapid Creek Wetlands Absorb Pollution

Jul 16, 2015
Charles Michael Ray

You might not think about what happens to the rain water that washes down a city street and into a grate.   
But that water eventually runs into a local waterway and it can often be polluted by oil, or sediment, or even animal waste it picks up from the streets.
In the 1990’s federal laws were enacted to make cities clean storm water runoff before it’s discharged into streams.   
Building a water treatment plant can cost local taxpayers millions, but Rapid City found a cost effective way to clean the water using mother nature.

Pollution Persists On Spring Creek

Aug 25, 2014

If you were thinking about swimming in Spring Creek between Hill City and  Sheridan Lake -- don’t.

Spring Creek in the Black Hills feeds Sheridan Lake–and for the past few years this upper section of stream has tested positive for e-coli bacteria.   So far the lake itself has remained at safe levels.  

E-coli is an indicator of possible pollution from human or animal waste – and in Spring Creek there are high enough concentrations to exceed the EPA’s threshold for safe swimming.  

SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray has more.

Heavy Runoff Overwhelms WHARF Pollution Control

May 21, 2014
Amy Varland

WHARF Resources is making an emergency discharge of water out of a containment pond at its surface gold mine in the Northern Black Hills this week.  The lined holding pond catches potentially polluted water that is normally treated before release into the Spearfish Creek watershed.   The extra heavy snow pack this year means high levels of runoff are overwhelming the mine’s containment system.   

166 Polluted Rivers, Lakes, And Streams In SD

Apr 4, 2014

A report submitted by state officials to the EPA cites 166 lakes and streams in South Dakota as polluted or impaired.   The bodies of water fail to meet government standards for clean water.

Most of the polluted waters in South Dakota are due to non-point sources such as livestock waste.

SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray has this story on the work to deal with the causes of this contamination and a new citizen volunteer effort to monitor water quality in South Dakota. 

Uranium Mining Water Protection Bill Fails in Committee

Feb 13, 2014

A measure that sought to create water restoration processes for uranium mining projects failed in the House Ag committee Thursday morning. House Bill 1193 requires anyone applying for a mining permit to also demonstrate how the water used in the process would be returned back to baseline levels.

Bad Water In The Black Hills

Dec 10, 2013
Charles Michael Ray / SDPB

This year officials in the Black Hills issued several water quality alerts warning the public about high levels of fecal bacteria in a small section of Spring Creek.   The bacteria exceeded EPA thresholds for swimming.  

For some, the pollution found in Spring Creek is a red flag that the Black Hills needs to do better at protecting its water quality over the long term.

SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray continues our series “The State of Our State” with a two part story on the efforts to maintain water quality in the Black Hills.

Black Hills Water Contamination Highlights Concerns

Aug 9, 2013

Fecal bacteria found in a prominent Black Hills stream is raising concerns over water quality in Western South Dakota.

Levels of bacteria in Spring Creek above Sheridan Lake exceed the EPA safety threshold for swimming.   The pollution led the Pennington County Emergency Management office to issue a public warning against recreation in part of the stream.

SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray reports the public can now track pollution levels on-line.

Upstream Pollution Leaves Huge Gulf Dead Zone

Jun 19, 2013

Scientists in Louisiana are reporting that this year may see the largest dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico ever recorded.    

The dead zone in the Gulf is caused primarily by fertilizers and livestock waste entering the watershed and traveling downstream.   The high level of pollution leads to a zone of no oxygen in the water that kills aquatic life.   

Arsenic Pollution On The Cheyenne River Reservation

Apr 23, 2013

A new study shows dangerous levels of arsenic contamination on parts of the Cheyenne River Reservation.  Arsenic is known to cause cancer, and the study points to a human health risk from the current concentrations found in some areas.

The study adds to the current body of research, showing that the pollution from historic mining in the northern Black Hills was carried down the Cheyenne River and deposited in areas where residents work and recreate.