The drought of 2012 has pumped the number of new irrigation permits and applications in South Dakota to the highest level of recent decades, Department of Environment and Natural Resources staffers said.

“We’ve got a stack of groundwater irrigation applications about a foot high,” Lynn Beck, a DENR staff engineer, said at Monday’s meeting in Pierre of the Governor’s Drought Taskforce. “Everyone is covering the bases. I’m sure the drought has a lot to do with it.”

Kim Smith, a spokesman for the DENR, said that as of Monday, the DENR’s water rights program has issued 113 irrigation permits, while there are 91 applications pending.

For comparison, Smith said, 62 irrigation permits were issued in 2011 and 43 in 2010.

This year’s tally is the highest number of irrigation permits that South Dakota has had since the late 1970s, Smith noted.

South Dakota issued 551 irrigation permits during the drought year of 1976, and 524 in 1977. The number dropped to 104 permits in 1978. There were 271 irrigation permits in 1975, the year before the drought.

The permit process has changed so that the process involves some steps now that weren’t required in the 1970s.

But farming has also changed. Farmers are using no-till methods that conserve moisture, which could be a factor in why there are fewer new applications now.

State climatologist Dennis Todey of South Dakota State University, who participated in the Governor’s Drought Taskforce meeting via conference call, said the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for Nov. 15 puts all but the very northeast tip of South Dakota in with a group of other Plains and western states where the drought is expected to persist and intensify at least for the period through Feb. 28, 2013.

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