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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

South Dakota


Bad River Watershed Project -
Watershed Management Model Works in South Dakota

The Bad River watershed, 3,172 square miles that drain into the Missouri River at Ft. Pierre, South Dakota, consists primarily of highly erodible shallow and dense clays. The river does not support its assigned beneficial uses primarily because its sediment load is 3.25 million tons per year, which also severely impacts the Lake Sharpe impoundment of the Missouri River. The sport fishery in this reach of the Missouri River contributes about $2.5 million annually to Pierre's economy, but only when it is not impaired by turbidity from the Bad River. When the Bad River is flowing, the value essentially goes to zero.

Unchecked sediments pose many risks

The Bad River's sediment load settles in the Missouri River near Pierre and Ft. Pierre and has significantly filled the channel. The result is increased flooding in the municipalities and surrounding area, and a consequent reduction in the water that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will release from the Oahe Reservoir during extremely cold periods. The loss of power generation during these times has an average annual value of $12.5 million. Beyond economic value, however, is a greater concern; namely, that the loss of power generation during critical winter conditions may result in regional multistate brown- or black-out conditions with consequent loss of life. If the sediment continues to accumulate, the Corps of Engineers predicts flow restrictions and subsequent power generation curtailments even under open channel flows.

Although these impacts of sediment delivery are sizable and well known, numerous obstacles must be overcome before anyone can undertake a project large enough to make a significant reduction in the volume of sediment delivery.

Steering committee takes first steps

The Bad River watershed steering committee -- composed of local residents and governmental officials -- selected a watershed management approach. Thus, the steering committee, who will guide program development and conduct a monitoring and assessment program, began documenting the magnitude and location of sediment contributions in the watershed as a first step toward solving the problem. People generally believed that the sediment came mostly from South Dakota badlands in the upper basin and tablelands that had been converted from grasses to wheat production. The steering committee's assessment program suggested, however, that the lower third of the watershed produces two-thirds of the sediment -- primarily from gully erosion on grazing lands and streambank scour.

The next step toward a solution was to begin a demonstration project in the 250-square- mile Plum Creek subwatershed to illustrate the feasibility of pollution controls. The practices must be carefully chosen not to jeopardize the economic stability of ranches and farms in the project area. In the Bad River watershed, the project recommended an array of practices: planned grazing systems, proper grazing use, erosion control structures, riparian revegetation, range seedings, water spreader systems, and alternative stock watering facilities.

The breadth of these practices demonstrated to farmers and ranchers that the program was truly voluntary and would enhance the economic stability of their operations. Simultaneously, it convinced management agencies that the project could achieve substantial landowner participation. Above all, this portion of the workplan showed that the steering committee had explored innovative best management practices and knew for certain that the recommended practices would help the watershed community control the volume of sediment in the Bad River drainage.

The principal partners in the Bad River contributed financially and offered technical expertise. Among them:

  • Stanley County Conservation District (Primary Sponsor)
  • South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources
  • South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
  • USDA Farm Services Agency
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • South Dakota Department of Agriculture
  • South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • North Central Resource Conservation and Development
  • Pheasants Forever
  • South Dakota Wheat Commission

Results of the demonstration project exceeded expectations and achieved a significant reduction in erosion and sediment delivered to the Bad River. In 1990, Plum Creek delivered 82.7 tons of sediment per acre/foot of runoff. The average annual sediment delivery during 1993 through 1995 was 10.2 tons of sediment per acre/foot of runoff. These data were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with Stanley County Conservation District and published in the annual USGS Water Resources Data for South Dakota, 1990 through 1995. Years 1991 and beyond were unusually high precipitation years. Nevertheless, a significant reduction of sediment delivery was apparent. Increased vegetation in the formerly eroded streambanks and riparian areas helped control water yield. Improved land resource management by project cooperators further reduced total runoff.

Landowner participation in the Plum Creek watershed was approximately 90 percent, with approximately 95 percent of the land under some type of intense management. The watershed residents have supported expansion of the project to the rest of the basin and demands for technical and financial assistance are about four times expected levels.

CONTACT: Duane Murphy
South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(605) 773-4254

Riparian Improvement on the East River -
Information and Education are Keys to Success

Water quality in the Big Sioux, James, and Vermillion rivers of South Dakota, which drain all or parts of 34 eastern counties, is impaired. Samples from these streams contain pollutants and physical impairments that limit their use for drinking water, fisheries, and water-related recreation. The persistence of poor water quality over many years relates to several land uses in the watersheds, namely, urban growth, and a variety of agricultural practices.

Sediments from sheet, rill, and ephemeral erosion on croplands and construction sites; stormwater runoff; streambank erosion; and loss of riparian vegetation, mainly from cattle grazing and cropland encroachments, are partial reasons for the water's poor quality. Excessive nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, and human and animal wastes in runoff and sediments are additional concerns.

Identifying the players

Although some remediation work is ongoing in these watersheds, South Dakota's Nonpoint Source Task Force saw the section 319 grant program as an opportunity to strengthen the effort. It organized the East River Riparian Committee to determine how local people can be encouraged to take active roles in riparian management and water quality improvement. The Nonpoint Source Task Force is an ad hoc group of South Dakotans interested in water quality; its members are representatives from agricultural groups, state and federal agencies, resource conservation and development districts, conservation districts, and water development districts.

The East River Riparian Committee is composed of competent resource managers and local area leaders who have developed a project to provide information and education on riparian area management for resource managers, land users, and the general public. The committee's goal is to provide incentives to land users who voluntarily implement a riparian management demonstration site. The sites can be in an area that needs treatment or in one that already displays the results of good riparian stewardship.

Reaping the benefits

The project helps resource managers develop their knowledge and improve their confidence in planning and implementing riparian area management projects. Land users interested in improving riparian areas can also obtain technical and financial assistance from the project. Landowners who already have good riparian areas receive recognition for their efforts and share their experience with those working in riparian areas for the first time.

Everyone increases his or her awareness and understanding of the values and functions of healthy riparian areas in relation to water quality. Riparian areas influence the surface water quality by affecting the timing and amount of water, sediment, nutrients, and organic matter that enter an intermittent or perennial stream from the adjacent uplands. The riparian areas in the James River watershed (along the mainstem and tributaries) are pasture. In the Big Sioux and Vermillion River watersheds, both cropland and pastures are found in the riparian area. Overgrazing, cultivation, and trampling eventually eliminate riparian plants, which increases runoff and sediment delivery to the rivers, accelerates streambank erosion, and prevents the floodplain from functioning as it should to retard flooding.

Project overview and sponsors

The project began with section 319 funding. The local landowners and the South Dakota Conservation Commission provided local match. Moody County Conservation District was the project sponsor with 15 other conservation districts serving as cosponsors. The endeavor is a true example of how partnerships work.

To date, 18 projects have been identified in 14 counties. Funding and technical assistance are provided by EPA, local landowners, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Department of Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, and Ducks Unlimited.

All management practices demonstrated at the project sites were selected from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Office Technical Guide. Most practices were related to grazing management: for example, planned grazing systems, cross fencing, livestock crossings, livestock exclusions, range seeding, and water development (nose pumps, solar pumps, pipelines, dugouts, stockwater dams). Other practices include grass waterways, grass seeding, tree planting, grade stabilization structures, and streambank stabilization. Wet weather has hampered the implementation of these practices at several sites, but the landowners have remained enthusiastic.

In all cases, the land user was asked to allow media coverage and public tours to observe progress and riparian values of each site. Riparian information reaches the public through on-site tours, newspaper articles, slide talks, displays, and presentations. On-site tours are especially useful; they show that landowners accept riparian management practices and that improved riparian vegetation benefits both the landowner and surface water quality.

Benefits and results

The East River Riparian Area Demonstration Project has shown how conservation- oriented riparian management can succeed in South Dakota. A total of 18 project sites were selected in the riparian areas of the Big Sioux, James, and Vermillion river basins. The majority of the riparian areas in the project were classified as nonfunctioning or functioning minimally. Partnerships between the producers, the NRCS, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and other resource agencies have provided a vehicle for improving the condition of these riparian areas.

Producers and resource personnel are working together to manage agricultural systems in riparian areas in an economically and ecologically sound manner. Producers have implemented grazing plans that have increased the vegetative cover and the stability of the riparian areas, while still increasing net profit from their agricultural operations. The overall results from the project have been an increase in the number of functional streams in the river basins, improved water quality, larger profits from agricultural operations, and an increased awareness of the value of riparian management.

CONTACT: Steve Scholtes
South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources

(605) 773-4254

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