The South Dakota Wildlife Federation Board of Directors is opposed to the merger of the S.D. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the S.D. Department of Agriculture.
These two organizations perform distinctly different missions and should be separate. If allowed, South Dakota becomes the only state to not have a separate department focused on environmental issues.
The vast majority of DENR's mission has nothing to do with agriculture. The portion that does overlap is primarily of a regulatory nature. DENR is essentially the enforcement agency when it comes to ag operations complying with state and local laws. Various boards under DENR spend significant time in contested hearings, and DENR's enforcement division often interacts with ag operations, through permit approvals and enforcement.
The Ag Department's mission is "to promote, protect and preserve South Dakota agriculture for today and tomorrow."
One of the few areas that they overlap involves conservation; DENR's conservation resources are limited and a small part of its mission. The conflicting nature of the two departments is summarized in the following report known as the 2020 South Dakota Integrated Report for Surface Water Quality Assessment: "South Dakota has about 10,094 miles of perennial rivers and streams and about 87,474 miles of intermittent and ephemeral streams. About 5,875 stream miles have been assessed in the past five years. During this interval, 22% of assessed stream miles were found to support all their assigned beneficial uses; 78% did not support one or more beneficial uses. DENR has listed 97 different streams or stream segments as impaired requiring TMDL development.
``Similar to previous reporting periods, nonsupport for fishery/aquatic life uses was caused primarily by total suspended solids (TSS) from ag nonpoint sources and natural origin. Nonsupport for recreational uses was primarily caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination from livestock and wildlife contributions."
On the lake side, standards for mercury concentrations were changed by the EPA, making most lakes non-supporting. Language in the reports changed substantially minimizing other sources of pollution. It is necessary to go back to the 2014 report to see what the issue was prior to the change in the mercury standard.
The 2014 assessment states: "DENR has assessed 143 of the 572 classified lakes. The assessed lakes account for 75.1% of the total classified lake acreage. An estimated 44.2% of the assessed lake acreage was considered to support assigned beneficial uses. DENR has listed 72 lakes as impaired and require TMDL development. Sediment and nutrients conveyed in surface water runoff are the main nonpoint source pollutants impacting S.D. lakes and reservoirs. Similar to previous reporting periods, nonsupport for fishery/aquatic life uses was caused primarily by TSS from ag nonpoint sources and natural origin. Nonsupport for recreational uses was primarily caused by fecal coliform and E. coli contamination from livestock and wildlife contributions."
It is easy to see that agriculture contributes significantly to the pollution of S.D.'s lakes and streams, and what little enforcement action that has occurred regarding pollution violations has come through DENR's enforcement division. About the only time DENR has taken enforcement action is when a written complaint is filed, as required by state law.
An effort to make it easier for the public to report possible violations and initiate DENR investigations was introduced and defeated during the last legislative session.
DENR staff members were among the leading opponents of making it easier to initiate investigations, primarily citing the lack of staffing. The message was clear that DENR and political forces at higher levels were not interested in enforcement actions to protect S.D.'s lakes and streams. Now, when the two departments are combined, it is very unlikely the general public will have any confidence in one division of the Department of Ag effectively investigating violations by ag operations.
SDWF humbly asks the respective legislative bodies to make the inquires necessary to objectively determine whether this merger is in the best interests of our water resources. Any personnel savings will be minimal at a time when budgetary issues do not seem pressing. The public's loss of confidence in a combined department will result in more violations going unreported and S.D's lakes and streams suffering the consequences.
Zach Hunke, president
S.D. Wildlife Federation
Pierre, Jan. 13