PIERRE—Brown, Marshall and Spink counties must remain in the James River water development district, even though many of their county commissioners think it would be better to split away.
An attempt to let them create a new district was rejected today at the Legislature.
The Senate committee on agriculture and natural resources heard testimony from Sen. Al Novstrup about the James River district’s management problems. But the committee decided, on a 6-3 vote, that granting a divorce wasn’t the right solution.
Other steps need to be taken, said Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center. “If this happened in my part of the world, they would be tarred and feathered, if the allegations are correct,” he said.
Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, was blunter. “You got a problem. Fix it,” Vehle said. “Fix the problem, instead of taking the marbles and going home.”
The purpose of water development districts under South Dakota law is to promote conservation, development and proper management of water resources and to serve as a clearinghouse for water supply and water quality projects. The districts raise money through property taxes.
The purpose of watershed districts, on the other hand, is to provide for flood control and a variety of other management methods. The two types of districts overlap in some of their responsibilities under state laws.
Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, was prime sponsor of the legislation, Senate Bill 160. It would have formed the North Central water development district.
Novstrup said there is an appearance of mismanagement and wrong-doing in the James River district. He directly mentioned the district’s manager, Darrell Raschke of Huron, several times.
Novstrup gave the committee copies of the recently completed report from the state Department of Legislative Audit that details a wide range of improper and questionable activities.