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scottm / Courtesy Tom Jansa/SDGA  

Maggie Murphy from Sioux Falls (left) and Pierre’s Katie Bartlett hold their trophies awarded to them by SDGA Executive Director Tom Jansa at this past weekend’s SDGA Women’s Match Play Championship in Brandon. Murphy defeated Bartlett 2 and 1.

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Pierre Commission amends ordinances to up water rates to pay for $37M water plant

At its Tuesday meeting, the Pierre City Commission made official into the future the rising water rates it will charge residents to pay for the water treatment plant projected to be built by 2021.

City leaders announced the plan a year ago or more to raise water rates considerably to pay for a new $36.85 million  water treatment plant.

The city's water, drawn for decades from wells along the Missouri River, is high in mineral content, especially of manganese, and long has bothered residents by making the water hard and prone to staining fixtures indoors and sidewalks and walls where water is sprayed outdoors.

The water is safe to drink but hasn't been popular.

For years, city leaders have talked about building a water treatment plant, stopped by the high cost. But recent improvements in technology made it more feasible, Mayor Steve Harding has said, making the water plant one of his main projects when elected in June 2017. Voters agreed with a 73 percent yes tally in June 2018. On Tuesday, Harding said that the projected water rate increases had been widely discussed over the past year and more.

Twila Hight, city finance officer, told the Commission the terms of the low-interest loan the city received last year from the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources requires that the Commision memorialize the projected raises in water rates to show it can pay off the loan.

The Commission gave final approval Tuesday to changing the ordinances to project rising water rates until 2023.

The projected cost of $36.85 million for the water plant, which will be in the northwest end of Steamboat Park near Waldron Bridge, will require raising the typical resident’s water bill from about $50 a month to about $80 a month, or 60 percent, city leaders and the representatives of the engineering firm, AE2, have said. Or, as City Utilities Director Brad Palmer often describes it, an added dollar per day to the typical city residential water customer. Or $365 more each year.

A year ago, shortly after city voters approved the water treatment plant idea, the Commission enacted the first 8 percent raise in water rates. It approved another 8 percent raise in January 2019.

The vote on Tuesday memorializes the January 2019 rate increase  as effective Aug. 1, without increasing it, Hight said.

The amended ordinance also includes similar 8 percent increases slated for Jan. 1, 2020, Jan. 1, 2021, Jan. 1, 2022 and Jan. 1, 2023.

The six-stage phase-in of the water rate increases over about five years will total the estimated necessary increase of about 60 percent in the average residential customer’s water bill to pay for the construction and operation of the $36.85 million plant, including the 2.5 percent interest rate charged by the state for the 30-year loan.

The city’s commercial water users also will see a similar increase in water rates and charges.

In the new ordinance amendment passed Tuesday, some key details include the water usage surcharge going up each year, while the regular water use rate goes down. Here are some of the figures placed into the ordinance on Tuesday by the Commission:

On Aug. 1, the flat water rate for a single-family home will remain at the level set Jan. 1, $13 per month and for an apartment, $9.40; the water usage rate will remain at $3.02 per 100 cubic feet of water - which is about 748 gallons - used; plus a usage surcharge of 5 cents per 100 cubic feet of water to pay toward the DENR loan.

On Jan. 1, 2020, those figures will go to $14.25 flat rate for a single-family home; $10.20 for an apartment; and $3.04 usage rate per 100 cf; the surcharge goes from a nickel to 26 cents per 100 cubic feet of water used.

On Jan. 1,2021, the flat rate for homes goes to $15.50 and apartments to $11 a month; and water use rate goes down to $2.66 per 100 cf, while the surcharge going to DENR’s loan rises to $0.90 per 100 cf.

On Jan. 1, 2022, the single home flat rate goes to $16.75 per month, the apartment flat rate to $11.80; water usage rate down to $1.66 per 100 cf, with the usage surcharge up to $2.19 per 100 cf.

On Jan. 1 2023, residential single family home flat rate goes to $18 per month; apartments to $12.50 a month; the water usage rate goes to $1.97 per 100 cf, while the surcharge for the DENR loan goes to $2.20 per 100 cf.

 From this year to Jan. 1, 2023, the flat rate for water hookup for a residence goes from $13 a month to $18 a month, a 38.5 percent increase over four years.

The usage rates, including the growing surcharge,  go from a combined $3.07 per 100 cubic feet of water used in 2019, to a combined figure of $4.17 per 100 cubic feet of water used on Jan. 1, 2023; a 36 percent increase.

The city’s annual debt payment on the 30-year state loan for the water plant will be about $1.7 million, to cover the principal and interest, Hight said.

The DENR requires the city to show sufficient revenue through its water bill collections, especially the surcharge on water usage, to cover 110 percent of the projected debt payments due, Hight said.

It’s expected that the law of supply and demand will kick in and as water rates increase, residents and business owners will use less water, so that’s baked into the financial projections, Hight said.

The bulk of water bills to residents and businesses is made up of the water usage fees, not the flat rate charged monthly for water service, Hight said. This year, for example, if a typical residential customer’s bill is about $55 a month, the flat rate of $13 is only about a quarter of the total bill; the rest comes from the per-100-cubic-feet rates based on how much water is used.

The new water treatment plant will draw water from near the surface of the Missouri River to the north of the railroad bridge, instead of from the dozen wells along the river and on LaFramboise Island.

That will mean there will be about no manganese in the city’s water, and with a new treatment regime, it will taste better and be softer, AE2’s engineers say. That will provide some cost savings to city residents in less money spent on in-home water softening and filtration and other ways of dealing with the current problematic city water, AE2’s engineers say.

It's worth noting that even if a new water treatment plant was not built, something would have to be done with the city’s aging wells anyway, which would cost a not insubstantial amount of money, city leaders have said.

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Sinkhole appears on walking path in Pierre's Griffin Park down by the river

A 10-foot deep sinkhole that gaped open the past weekend on a walking path along the Missouri River in Griffin Park, not far from the tennis courts and the outdoor swimming pool in Pierre, is attracting attention of passersby and city leaders.

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, Commissioner Jim Mehlhaff asked other city leaders about it, saying he’d heard about it and wanted to know what the plan was.

“We are going to fix it in the next couple of weeks,” City Administrator Kristi Honeywell said.

“So that part of the park is safe?” Mehlhaff asked

“That is ringed off from the public,” Mayor Steve Harding said.

Bill Bishop, a retired railroad man, walks this way often and on Wednesday morning stopped with his two tiny dogs to check out the sinkhole ringed with orange plastic fencing.

He’s noticed a depression, or settling, on the ground along the path that seemed to get more apparent this spring, Bishop told the Capital Journal..

“Then the hole was there, Sunday, or maybe it was Saturday,” he said. “The first time I saw it there weren’t any signs around it or anything.”

Looking at it Wednesday, Bishop said the sides of the hole appeared to have fallen in more since the weekend.

“Ever since the flood in 2011, there are a lot of voids — I call them — along Missouri Avenue here, there’s one at my place,” he said, describing what he suspects are underground spaces he blames on effects of the disastrous flood eight years ago.

Lynn Patton, the city’s construction and operations manager, said the hole goes down about 10 feet to an old sewer trunk line.

He thinks. There’s still some research to be done before the fix can be done.

“There was a small dip on the edge of the path more than a week ago that we were made aware of,” Patton said. “We were in the process of starting to come up with a plan, and then it just collapsed and has opened up even bigger yet.

If it is an old sewer trunk line, the pipe itself dates back decades to the first moves by the city to switch the sewer disposal plan from simply piping it down to and into the river, to collecting it from those old ways and piping it to the first wastewater treatment plant, Patton said.

The trunk line was lined back in the 1990s with a plastic inner surface to extend its life.

Now his crews have to find out; just what happened so they can fix it, he said.

“We’re going to try to videotape it during a low flow, and suck some flow out to haul cameras in the line to see if we can determine (the cause.) That’s an old pipe that has been lined. The outside pipe is clay and that’s probably where the material and inflow is doing into. We’re hoping the it’s just between the liner and the old pipe. But until we get a camera in there, we won’t know. This is a trunk line, so it flows quite full.”

If relying on a low flow period doesn’t work, the crews will have to set up pumps to get the flow to where a video camera can be inserted, he said.

A sort of city colonoscopy.

“We don’t know at this time if any sewage leaked out. If ground water is getting in between the pipes and the liner is in good shape, than the sewage is staying within the pipe.”

No one has lost any utility service yet from the sinkhole.

But if the exam finds some repairs are needed to underground pipes, “there will be some bypassing,” to keep everyone with water and sewer service and any other utility affected, he said.

This area of 100 feet or more from the river used to be mud flats from regular floods before Oahe Dam was built in the 1950s and completed in 1962, bringing a new measure of flood control, Patton said.

Back in the day, the river and mud flats were used as dump sites and some of those things still are found when digging goes on, he said.

“There are a lot of things underground we’re not aware of.”

Democrats see $19.4 million state budget surplus differently

Representative Linda Duba (D-Sioux Falls).

Senator and Minority Whip Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls)

In a news release, Governor Kristi Noem announced that South Dakota closed the 2019 budget year on June 30 with a $19.4 million surplus. The state general fund budget ended with lower expenditures, but ongoing revenue also finished lower than projected levels.

“My first take-away,” said Representative Ryan Cwach (D-Yankton), “is South Dakotans don’t spend money we don’t have, but we don’t spend money we do have. The state has not kept up with what we promised the schools. We have many unfunded and under-funded programs across the state. This year we did a better job, such as with nursing homes, but we didn’t do enough. They (nursing homes) and Medicaid concern me, and how these will affect the next budget.”

“It’s good for us; it’s a surplus,” agreed Representative Linda Duba (D-Sioux Falls). “We did make advances with our 2020 budget, but we are lagging behind.”

“I wasn’t really surprised we wound up with a surplus,” said Senator and Minority Whip Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls). “The revenue income is lower than expected, and that is a concern.”

This was in response to Noem’s release that included, “Ongoing general fund revenue for fiscal year 2019 was lower than estimates adopted by the Legislature in February by $4.4 million, or 0.3 percent. Sales and use tax receipts are the state’s largest revenue source, and grew by 3.7 percent over the prior fiscal year, but still finished the fiscal year $9.9 million below estimates.”

“I am worried our revenues were lower than expected,” said Nesiba. “Was this just a short-term deviation, or an ongoing trend? If that continues we are going to have to make hard decisions. I am worried about our next budget.”

“It’s been five years plus that have not been very friendly with agriculture,” Cwach continued. “Our farmers are holding back their spending, and their revenue leads to the rest of the state holding back on its spending. We are a sales-tax based state.”

“We only have a limited source of funding,” said Duba. “These budget reserves need to be considered in 2020. I know we are making a difference, but not enough. We did some good things with our funding, but we have a long way to go.”

“Part of the savings came in a decrease in Medicaid eligibles and utilization (fewer people and less spent on services). At first glance it’s great,” said Nesiba. “Thing is, we don’t know why. People may be getting jobs (many could be entry-level) or otherwise no longer qualify for Medicaid. It is possible people now don’t have good enough insurance or are just not insured.”

Duba said, “We have serious needs in our state, in particular nursing home closures, mental health funding, the need for addiction treatment — in particular for our inmates in the women’s prison. We need more public education funding; many districts are opting out.”

“Even with a 10 percent increase to our nursing homes,” Duba continued, “we are still going to experience closures because we have not closed the gap with what Medicaid pays and what is needed (in operating costs). We need to think differently as we come into this 2020 legislative session. We can sit here and sugarcoat everything, or we can face the reality that the funding continues to need money for where we need to be.”

“I think this is a third or fourth year with budget surpluses, and the third or fourth year when South Dakota has been near the top in student loan debt,” Cwach said.

Nesiba said, “The surplus also creates opportunities; some things are not funded and some things we are behind on. We gave one-time money for education, when it should be ongoing. We’ve done a good job of holding school districts accountable, but we have to keep ourselves accountable. We should use about $4 million on schools, then about $2 million to try to catch up to what we intended to do for schools in 2016. The problem is we end up with one-time money, when we need ongoing care.”

“I don’t know if online sales taxes will make a difference,” said Cwach in response to Noem’s release, which stated: “It’s still early, but it is prudent to have not budgeted for any additional sales and use tax from online and other remote sellers given the fact that this year’s overall sales tax numbers didn’t hit their projections. We’ll continue to monitor the data coming to see how the Wayfair decision and the subsequent tax changes impact our state’s bottom line.” .

“We only have a limited source of funding,” said Duba. “These budget reserves need to be considered in 2020. I know we are making a difference, but not enough. We did some good things with our funding, but we have a long way to go.”

Noem’s release stated that, by law, the fiscal year 2019 surplus of $19.4 million was transferred to the budget reserve fund. The state’s budget reserve fund now has a balance of $145.1 million and the general revenue replacement fund has a balance of $44.0 million, for a total reserve of $189.1 million.

August 1 deadline for Spirit of Dakota nominations

The deadline for nominations for the 2019 Spirit of Dakota Award is August 1. This award will be presented on October 5 in Huron to an outstanding South Dakota woman who has demonstrated vision, courage, and strength in character and who has made a significant contribution to the quality of life in her community and state.

The award winner will be chosen by a state-wide selection commission including First Gentleman Byron Noem. This marks the 33rd anniversary of the award.

Nomination forms are available by contacting the Huron Area Chamber of Commerce, 1725 Dakota Ave S., by calling 1-800-487-6673 or online at www.spiritofdakota.org.

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Study finds mercury levels in lakes increase during flooding

A recent study by the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSMT) found that mercury levels can increase during times of flooding and lake expansion — exactly what’s happening this soggy spring and summer.

The SDSMT study, published this year in the “Journal of Soils and Sediments,” found that emissions from coal-fired power plants are the main source of mercury pollution around the world. Mercury is distributed through the atmosphere until it settles on the land. Global deposition of mercury began with the start of the Industrial Revolution and peaked in the U.S. during the 1970s.

Mercury concentrations have gone down with emission reductions and pollution control in recent decades. Historic mining and industrial operations are less common sources of mercury pollution.

The focus of the study was to determine the main source of mercury and to understand the history of mercury deposition in South Dakota.

Three state agencies — Game, Fish and Parks; Department of Environment and Natural Resources; and the Board of Health — run tests on state waters that include levels of mercury in fish.

Game, Fish & Parks (GFP), for example, samples at least 10 lakes each year for a panel of 25 contaminants, testing fish for metals; pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an organic chlorine compound once widely used in coolant fluids; and mercury.

John Lott, GF&P chief of aquatic research, said that mercury enters the food chain from

many sources, either natural or man-caused.

Natural sources include the creation of methylmercury. Methylmercury is formed from inorganic mercury by the action of microbes that live in aquatic systems including lakes, rivers, wetlands, sediments, soils and the open ocean. The production of methylmercury has been primarily attributed to anaerobic bacteria in the sediment.

The Department of Health’s (DOH) website explains mercury contamination this way: “In lakes and other bodies of freshwater, small organisms convert naturally occurring inorganic mercury into its organic form, methylmercury. Methylmercury binds with particles and sediments eaten by smaller fish. Larger game fish prey on these smaller, mercury contaminated fish. Because fish eliminate mercury at a very slow rate, it accumulates in their tissues and organs where it cannot be removed by filleting or cooking, unlike organic contaminants that concentrate in the skin and fat.”

According to United States Geological Survey, “The toxic effects of mercury depend on its chemical form and the route of exposure. Methylmercury is the most toxic form. It affects the immune system, alters genetic and enzyme systems, and damages the nervous system, including coordination and the senses of touch, taste and sight... Exposure to methylmercury is usually by ingestion, and it is absorbed more readily and excreted more slowly than other forms of mercury. Elemental mercury, the form released from broken thermometers, causes tremors, gingivitis and excitability when vapors are inhaled over a long period of time. If elemental mercury is ingested, it is absorbed relatively slowly and may pass through the digestive system without causing damage.”

Robert Hanten, GF&P fisheries biologist, said that elemental mercury is different than methyl-mercury.

As larger and larger organisms consume smaller ones, mercury builds up each step up the aquatic food chain.

Hanten said that testing of fish in various bodies of water – lakes and streams – was begun in South Dakota in the early 1990s.

Of the numerous lakes in the state, 23 have received fish consumption advisories from the Board of Health and GFP. These consumption advisories say certain types and sizes of fish caught in specific South Dakota waters are not healthy to eat under certain circumstances

“These are case-by-case water bodies,” Hanten said, each can be affected by contaminates according to “exposed shoreline and atmospheric disposition of the water surface.”

“What we are trying to do is provide the public with information so they can make an informed decision,” Lott added. People can choose to eat the fish they catch, but only in recommended

amounts. He added that the suggested mercury threshold, 1 part per million, which is 10 times lower than the amount of mercury needed to display any effects.

Mercury concentration is usually not a concern, until the concentration of mercury is magnified as it accumulates up through the food chain.

Once a lake or dam has been placed on the consumption advisory list, it will be tested again in approximately five years.

Hanten said that any earlier testing would probably not show any different results. Upon questioning, he did say that no South Dakota body of water placed on the consumption advisory list has ever been removed from the list.

Lott stressed that not all waters in the state have been sampled.

The New Wall Lake near Wall was tested Sept, 20, 2016. Certain size and species of fish were found to have warning concentrations of mercury.

Lott concluded, “It is great that people are out there using our natural resources. This simply informs them so they can chose how to harvest it.”

If fishing a consumption advisory body of water, fishermen should either keep caught fish for limited consumption over time, or release the fish back into the water.

Maps provided on the GF&P and DENR websites show which lakes and dams have been tested, and whether they have needed to be posted or not. The red triangles indicate bodies of water with consumption advisories, and green fish indicate a body of water where fish tested low in mercury and other contaminants.

Website visitors can click on each symbol for more details.

Current mercury fish consumption advisories, by county and lake

South Dakota’s main fish of concern are walleye. Other fish of concern, depending on the body of water, include: northern pike, black crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and white crappie. As far as the mercury concern, sizes of these fish range from all sizes to specific sizes, such as, say, 13 — 16 inches.

Brookings/Kingsbury counties — Twin Lakes

Brown — Elm Lake

Butte — Newell Lake

Clark — Reid Lake

Clark — Swan Lake

Codington — Long Lake

Corson — Pudwell Dam

Dewey — Lake Isabel

Kingsbury/Brookings — Twin Lakes

Marshall — South Buffalo Lake

McCook/Minnehaha — North Island Lake

Minnehaha — Twin Lakes

Pennington — New Wall Lake

Perkins — Coal Springs Reservoir

Potter — Lake Hurley

Tripp — Lake Roosevelt

Day — Bitter Lake, Hazeldon Lake, Lake Minnewasta, Lardy Lake, Lynn Lake, Middle Lynn Lake, Opitz