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SD Game, Fish & Parks to Contact Meandered-Waters Landowners

Outdoor enthusiasts should have more places for recreation now that South Dakota’s non-meandered waters legislation has passed. (
Outdoor enthusiasts should have more places for recreation now that South Dakota’s non-meandered waters legislation has passed. (
March 16, 2018

PIERRE, S. D. – Implementation of the state's non-meandered waters bill will begin this spring, now that South Dakota lawmakers and the governor have approved legislation to remove a 2018 expiration date. The "Open-Water Compromise" had been the focus of two state Supreme Court decisions and occupied several legislative sessions.

Kevin Robling, special projects coordinator with the Game, Fish and Parks Department, was assigned to mediate the issue. He says it's all about compromise – between landowners where the waters are located, and people who want to use those sites for recreation.

"The work for Game, Fish and Parks really has just started, and is starting now with access agreements. How can we get more folks out there recreating? And that's going to be through the form of access agreements with landowners," he says.

The law opens non-meandered waters to public use, unless a landowner opts to close the property to public access, meaning it's open only by permission. Some private property owners have argued that the water on their property belongs to them, while recreationists contend the water is held in public trust by the state, and they have a right to access it.

The open waters issue didn't exist before the early 1990s, when Robling says heavy snow and an unusually wet spring flooded grazing and farmland in northeastern South Dakota.

"The vast majority of the non-meandered waters that do exist in the state that are being used or have been used in the past for recreational opportunities – i.e. fishing – for the most part are up in the northeast. Around Webster, Bristol, is where the majority of these water bodies currently exist," says Robling.

Robling says most property owners just want users to ask permission, and to be respectful of the land by removing trash and not driving on nearby fields.

He says there are 17 lake closures today. That means 4,500 acres of non-meandered water where fishing could be possible is closed off.

"These relationships are vitally important for Game, Fish and Parks. Eighty percent of South Dakota is privately owned, you know,” he says. “If you were to equate that to how much of the wildlife then resides on private land, you could say 80 percent of it, if was evenly distributed."

He notes that if summers are hotter than normal for the next 10 years, these waters may no longer exist.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD