Deal made permanent

Carrie Stadheim

According to the South Dakota Legislative Research Council, public water is defined as: “all meandered lakes, rivers, and streams and their shores to the high-water mark; all waters and shores of reservoirs constructed with public funds; and all other lakes, rivers, and streams that may be used by the public for boating, fishing, hunting, trapping, bathing, skating, and other activities for pleasure and recreation. Lakes, rivers, and streams that become dry during certain seasons of the year or periods of drought remain public waters.”

“Non-meandered waters” in layman’s terms refers to bodies of water that grow outside of their low water mark and sloughs that have developed due to flooding on previously farmable land.

The governor’s signature is all that is needed to remove the “sunset” provision of a compromise South Dakota legislators reached last summer regarding the non-meandered waters of the eastern part of the state. HB 1081, a bill that removes the wording that repealed or “sunset” the compromise on June 30, 2018.

In a nutshell, the compromise from last summer that will now be permanent, requires permission to be granted on “non-meandered waters” of the state before they can be accessed by the public. Before the compromise was enacted, many fisherman and other recreationalists were utilizing non-meandered waters – flooded farmgounds – without permission from the landowners.

Within the compromise language, several larger, more popular “lakes” or flooded areas were specifically written out of the law, and the owners of the land that lies beneath those lakes are not able to restrict access to the water or land below it without getting permission from the state Game, Fish and Parks commission.

Stace Nelson of Fulton, South Dakota, is not pleased with the compromise, and offered a resolution affirming the republican party’s support of private property rights. His resolution was opposed, even by republican leaders.

“They aren’t compromising Sioux Falls and Rapid City residents’ property rights. They don’t say how much water or snow has to be present to make it available to the public. Can I go skating in someone’s backyard if their pool is covered in snow and ice? They would come unglued. But farmers and ranchers are in the minority.”

Nelson said he received dozens, if not hundreds of e-mails from non-landowners saying they should have the right to enter any water that is touching a public road. They want it back the way it was when the Game, Fish and Parks allowed for decades that if the ground was flooded people could basically do what they wanted regardless of what the property owner had to say.”

Said Nelson: “It seems like there is an ongoing movement to further erode property rights in this state. It’s disconcerting.”