Big Sioux River needs much broader attention
By JON M. HUNTER, Publisher
The Big Sioux River Water Summit was held Monday at Sioux Falls, and we hope it starts new action to address serious problems with the river.|
The Big Sioux wanders 420 miles through eastern South Dakota, and eventually flows into the Missouri River. Most of Lake County drains into the Big Sioux.
Its dramatic falls are what gave the city of Sioux Falls its name. The Big Sioux can be pretty, and is used for recreation, fresh water supplies and flood control.
And according to advocacy group Environment America, it is the 13th dirtiest river in the country. East Dakota Water Development District Manager Jay Gilbertson says he wouldn't let his grandson swim in the river because of high levels of E. coli bacteria.
No one seems to dispute that the water quality of the Big Sioux is bad, although there are differing opinions whether it matters. Even property owners right on the river in the heart of Sioux Falls aren't united -- one owner said "To be in the river -- that's not the appeal. The appeal is being on the river. Unless you live in Alaska and have glacier-fed water, it's going to be brown or green."
We disagree wholeheartedly. Water quality is important, and we need collectively to stop pollution and erosion along the Big Sioux River, both for today and for the future.
We recognize the difficulty in improving water quality in the Big Sioux. There are so many sources of water that drain into it, so much undeveloped land, so much agriculture, so many municipalities involved that the task may seem impossible.
But it isn't impossible. Rivers that are much more polluted -- the Kalamazoo River in Michigan comes to mind - have been dramatically improved. It takes participation by public officials, land owners, conservationists, industries and many more, with the common goal of improving the river, to work together.
Cleaning up rivers is a bit different than cleaning lakes. Water flows at a much higher rate through rivers, so the pollution heads downstream. The critical element is to stop pollution at the sources. If you do, the river can clean itself.
We're eager to hear how the first summit goes, and how the next one at Brookings in October goes. We all have a vested interest in improving the Big Sioux.
-- Jon M. Hunter