Legislative Highlights 12-12-12

Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Seldom will we find two years that are exactly alike. When it comes to issues dealing with water it is hard to imagine two years being more different than 2011 and 2012.

Tom Hansen.eps

In 2011 we were plagued with too much water. The Missouri River reservoirs were full and overflowing. Many places experienced flooding. Farmland remained unplanted in several locations and local governments had to deal with damaged roads and bridges. There was a feeling of gloom and despair as we started the session last January.

There was a feeling of frustration and there were no apparent answers. Could government at any level offer solutions that would help provide some relief? The unwanted water did not respect county lines. In many instances those unhappy hosts had only one desire. That was to get rid of the water, even if it meant dumping on the neighbor. It appeared it should be government that should provide a framework that would attempt to manage the unhappiness of those affected.

Laws already exist that deal with various water issues. Many go back several years. Some allow for the creation of watershed districts. Their purpose was defined as watershed management. That was popular a few years ago when the goal was retention of water at higher elevations. It frequently involved construction of several small dams. Other laws dealt with Conservation Districts. In most instances they were established along county lines. Drainage Basin Utility Districts are another special purpose government that could address water issues. Their purpose is flood control and runoff protection.

Each of these concepts would face some difficulty. The possibility always exists for conflict between the various objectives depending on the conditions of any particular year.

Given the conditions as they existed at the start 2012 it seemed a good idea to take a look at our water laws. It was evident that some changes were needed. The question was whether or not any change could be made that would provide real long-term solutions. It was recognized that the solution must deal not only with water excesses but that it would also work in the times of water shortage.

Senate Bill 169 developed because of the pleas from several who were suffering because of too much water in the wrong places. Several have a stake in this discussion. Ag producers are the most obvious but county and township governments were equally concerned. Sportsmen also wanted to be involved if changes were considered as they wanted to be sure some wildlife habitat was maintained.

It was interesting to be a part of this piece of legislation as it evolved. Would it be possible to make some modifications in the structure of one of the existing types of special purpose governments? Perhaps it would be better to borrow from several of them to develop a new government entity. It might have the authority to better manage the surface waters moving across our state.

As SB 169 progressed through the process it soon became evident it would not be wise to make great changes in haste. The bill was changed on the Senate floor to first authorize formation of a task force. Several of the stakeholders would be invited to participate. The people of our state are entitled to some action but before any worthwhile action there must be some planning.

The bill passed and the task force is now functioning. They met three times this summer and will continue through next summer.

Legislative Highlights