Walt Bones discusses water issues at Farmers Union luncheon | TSLN.com

Walt Bones discusses water issues at Farmers Union luncheon

Courtesy photoFarmers Union members who attended Legislative Day, standing on the Capitol steps, are, front row, from left: Janae Hansen, Aberdeen; Kathy Micheel, Cavour; Tammy Basel, Union Center; Dallas Basel, Union Center; Brandy Enright, Union Center; Doug Sombke, Groton; and Garret Bischoff, Huron. Back row, from left: Chuck Groth, Huron; Wayne Meyer, Winner; John Kerstiens, Huron; Leslie Petersek, Colome; Franklin Olson, Pierpont; Ann Tornberg, Beresford; Greg Pesall, Webster; and Joel Keierleber, Colome.

South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) members from across the state traveled to Pierre, SD, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, for the annual Farmers Union Legislative Day. Members had the chance to talk one-on-one with their elected leaders in the legislature.

“It’s incredibly important to be able to tell your personal story to the men and women who are making the decisions that affect agriculture and our rural communities,” said SDFU president Doug Sombke.

Members attended legislative committee meetings and talked to lawmakers throughout the day. A noon luncheon was held where members heard from South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones. The secretary explained some of the issues his office is working on, including water drainage issues that are especially important to people in northeastern South Dakota who have dealt with several years of wet conditions.

“We need to look at the big picture,” Bones said, referring to water drainage problems along the James River. “A lot of counties are starting to walk away from it, and if the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) wants to let you put tile in, (the counties) say ‘Go ahead, but if you affect your neighbor they’re going to sue you.’ That’s what it’s come to in a lot of place.”

Bones said the James River problems have been “studied to death” over the last two decades, and said that something just needs to be done. But, he said, “If we really want to get serious about taking care of water we need to talk big picture, we really do.”

From beginning to end, the 300-mile long James River only drops 12-13 feet, according to Bones. “There’s just not much of a drop, so we have to think differently about how we deal with this problem. The James (River) has just become so silted over that it can’t move as much water downstream as it used to,” he said.

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The secretary said they’re looking at forming a large watershed project that will look at the water problem closely and possible drainage projects that could alleviate water problems. Bones said the NRCS has jurisdiction over water, so there needs to be collaboration on the state and federal levels.

Sen. Shantel Krebs (R-Renner) and Rep. Mitch Fargen (D-Flandreau) were the recipients of the Outstanding Legislative Leader Awards from Farmers Union. They were presented the awards during the luncheon. Members who attended legislative day also took in the general session of the legislature.

– South Dakota Farmers Union