Still in “pretty good shape”

Many can’t remember a time that the Big Sioux River ran as dry as it is currently, but local water officials say current levels have been documented many times over the course of the history of the river. Usage, if little precipitation is gained between now and next spring, will have to be closely monitored, but at this time the levels are not considered “dire.”

Rain has been minimal this year in South Dakota and Moody County. River levels, as a result, are low. That particular fact is obvious to anyone who even looks at the Big Sioux River right now.
Water levels appear so low, in fact, that they’ve become a primary talking point for many as they pass at the grocery store, the post office, the gas station or at the dinner table.
But water experts say that low levels like the ones we’re seeing right now are nothing new. They’ve actually been low like this countless times before, and we’ve weathered this particular drought storm, just fine.
Gauges along the Big Sioux River throughout Moody County show that water levels in the early 2000’s and in late 2012, were actually significantly lower. “It’s not dire,” said Jay Gilbertson, Manager for the East Dakota Water Development District out of Brookings. “If conditions continue, it will presumably go down but it’s low but it’s not disturbingly low. If you look at the overall picture, it’s dry and this is what the river looks like when it’s dry.”
Gilbertson offered his thoughts after looking at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) data for their stream gauge on the Big Sioux River near the Brookings/Moody County line. He also referred to readings from The Water Rights Program within the South Dakota Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources (DANR). The DANR maintains a network of over 1,500 observation wells which monitor the water level in various aquifers across the state. Some of these wells have been in place for over 60 years, “so there is often a good long-term record against which current conditions can be evaluated,” he said.
The monitors show that water levels in the Big Sioux Aquifer, which provides water to any number of private wells as well as irrigators and the Big Sioux Community Water system, are also down but also not abnormally so.
“We’re not running out of water by any stretch. It may require some careful attention, certainly it is dry and the river is low but the river has been low before, so have the aquifers and we’ve made it through so we’re currently still in pretty good shape,” said Gilbertson.

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