Published September 1, 2002 | September 2002 issue
Black Hills wildfires made the headlines, but statewide drought has been the biggest story this summer in sun-scorched South Dakota.
State officials considered shut-off orders for irrigation north of Huron and near Buffalo Gap in southwestern South Dakota. The state agriculture secretary pronounced farmers greedy when they began charging $100 a ton for hay he said should cost half that. Two state politicians locked in a tight campaign for a U.S. Senate seat curried votes in agricultural counties by seeking federal drought assistance dollars and pushing for exceptions to Conservation Reserve Program prohibitions on haying and grazing. City officials in Sioux Falls kept their eyes on Big Sioux River levels and debated daily over lawn watering bans.
Longer-term relief may come from major water projects that will tap South Dakota rivers and aquifers. The $365 million Lewis & Clark Rural Water System promises to bring up to 27 million gallons to Sioux Falls and 22 other communities, but won't be completed until 2014. Similar water projects in western and central South Dakota should be finished by 2008.