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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

South Dakota: Medicine Creek

Aquatic Life Use Restored in Agricultural Watershed


Waterbody Improved

  When data showed that Medicine Creek was violating water quality standards for conductivity and total dissolved solids (TDS), the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (SDDENR) added the creek to the state's 2002 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list. Data collected during a 2003–2005 assessment showed that fecal coliform bacteria and total suspended solids (TSS) concentrations also exceeded the standards, prompting SDDENR to add those parameters to Medicine Creek's list of impairments in 2006. The American Creek Conservation District worked with landowners to implement best management practices (BMPs) to reduce sediment, nutrient and bacterial loadings. Water quality has improved, and the state's standards are now being met. As a result, in 2008 SDDENR removed Medicine Creek from the state's impaired waters list for conductivity, TDS, TSS and fecal coliform.



Pete Jahraus
South Dakota Department 
  of Environment and
  Natural Resources

This image shows that the Medicine Creek watershed enters the Lower Brule Indian Reservation before emptying into the Missouri River. Larger view of map (PDF)
(1 p, 963K, About PDF)

Figure 1. Medicine Creek drains portions of two counties before it enters the Missouri River.

This image shows that agricultural waste systems, grazing management, and riparian restoration/protection BMPs are scattered throughout the watershed. Larger view of map (PDF)
(1 p, 321K, About PDF)

Figure 2. Landowners installed BMPs throughout the Medicine Creek watershed.

) This photo shows a holding pond at the corner of a field.

Figure 3. Landowners installed animal waste systems like this pond, which collects and holds manure-laden runoff.

This photo shows a grassed buffer between two fields.

Figure 4. Grassed waterways intercept and filter runoff from cropland in the watershed.



The 390,072-acre Medicine Creek watershed is part of the  Missouri River Basin in south-central South Dakota's Lyman and Jones counties  (Figure 1). The predominant land uses in the watershed include cropland  (about 31 percent) and rangeland and pastureland (about 59 percent). The  watershed has 38 animal feeding operations. The Lower Brule Indian Reservation  is in the northeastern portion of the watershed. Medicine Creek passes through  part of the reservation before it joins the Missouri River.

  Data showed that high conductivity and TDS levels caused  Medicine Creek to fail to support its designated water uses, including warm  water marginal fish life propagation, limited contact recreation, fish and  wildlife propagation, and stock watering and irrigation. As a result, SDDENR  added an 83.4-mile segment of the creek (from U.S. Highway 83 to the creek's  mouth) to the CWA section 303(d) list in 2002.

  SDDENR developed a total maximum daily load (TMDL) in 2005.  Data collected during the TMDL assessment indicated that two additional water  quality parameters, TSS and fecal coliform bacteria, violated South Dakota's  surface water quality standards. The TMDL study pinpointed nonpoint source  agricultural land uses (cropland and pastureland) and animal feeding operations  in the watershed as the major sources of TSS and fecal coliform bacteria. Two  municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the watershed (Presho and  Kennebec) discharge only periodically and are considered minor sources. The  tribal portion of the Medicine Creek watershed was not included in the TMDL  study area.

  To restore Medicine Creek, the TMDL study recommended that  TSS loads be reduced by 20.1 percent and fecal coliform loads be reduced by  18.3 percent. The assessment data show that violations of the conductivity and  TDS standards might be attributable to natural conditions (the geologic makeup  of the basin) and that the violations occur exclusively during low-flow  conditions.

Project Highlights

Between 2005 and 2010, the American Creek Conservation  District worked with landowners to install BMPs throughout the Medicine Creek  watershed (Figure 2). The BMPs included animal waste management systems (Figure  3), marginal pastureland riparian buffers, cropland filter strips, conversion  of cropland to permanent grass cover, grassed waterways (Figure 4), managed  grazing, and the repair or replacement of sediment dams.

To ensure the continued success of this project,  the American Creek Conservation District is monitoring the installed practices  and promoting the implementation of additional BMPs.  


Water  quality monitoring data collected during summer 2008 indicated that Medicine  Creek met standards for all of its listed parameters (Table 1). Therefore, in  2008 SDDENR removed the 83.4-mile-long segment of Medicine Creek from the state's impaired waters list for its TSS, conductivity, TDS and fecal coliform  impairments.

Partners and Funding

The success of the project is largely the result of  participation by numerous local, state and federal agencies and organizations,  including the American Creek Conservation District; South Dakota Conservation  Commission; South Dakota Department of Agriculture; South Dakota Department of  Environment and Natural Resources; South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks; Natural  Resources Conservation Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A total of $243,653 in CWA section 319 funds  supported this project. The State Conservation Commission and landowners  provided matching funds and in-kind services. The Natural Resources  Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program provided  additional federal funds for BMP implementation.  


Table 1. Water Quality Monitoring Data for Medicine Creek, Summer 2008
Parameter1 Data  Results Water  Quality Standard
TSS (in mg/L) 60 263
Conductivity (in µmhos/cm) 2884 4375
TDS  (in mg/L) 2453 4375
Fecal  coliform bacteria (counts/100 mL) 582 2000
1 mg/L: milligrams per liter; µmhos/cm: micromhos per centimeter; mL: milliliters

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