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  • SD Locally Led

Preserving South Dakota's Waters: A Tale of Collaboration and Conservation



We're thrilled to introduce a new video highlighting the exceptional achievements of the Belle Fourche Irrigation District and the Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership. This video takes you behind the scenes of their cooperative initiatives to safeguard the land and water resources within the Belle Fourche River watershed, benefiting both the local agricultural community and the environment.


The "Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership" video provides an exclusive glimpse into the practical application of one of South Dakota's Conservation Implementation Strategy (CIS) Projects, showcasing local partners and producers leading conservation efforts with a strong commitment to positively impacting their surroundings.


For over a century, the Belle Fourche Irrigation District has played a pivotal role in redirecting water from the Belle Fourche and Redwater Rivers to the Belle Fourche Dam. This water then traverses an impressive 450 miles of canals and channels, nurturing irrigation across 57,183 acres within the district's boundaries.


Photo from www.bellefourchewatershed.org

Tristan Clements, Project Manager of the Belle Fourche Irrigation District, reflects on the history of the district, emphasizing its substantial contributions to regional agriculture. "Out of those 57,000 acres, there's approximately 520 farmers ranging in size from five to upwards of 968 acres," Clements reveals, highlighting the widespread impact of this endeavor.


At the heart of these endeavors lies the unwavering partnerships and collaborative efforts of the Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership. Their commitment to preserving the land and water resources of the region shines through. The partnership's long-term aspiration of achieving a watershed without any listed or impaired waters stands as a testament to their dedication.


Tim Reich, Chairman of the Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership and the Butte Conservation District, offers insights into the origins of the partnership. "In the Belle Fourche River watershed, there are three conservation districts in South Dakota, three in Wyoming, and one in Montana. Out of frustration, we came together to address the entire watershed instead of isolated sections," Reich explains, underscoring the comprehensive approach.


The video further emphasizes the pivotal role of funding from partners such as the USDA-NRCS and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. By strategically utilizing resources like Section 319 funding from the Clean Waters Act and programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) from USDA-NRCS, the partnership has made substantial progress in investing within the watershed.


The experiences of local producers, like Zach Grant and Jeff Smeenk, vividly illustrate the tangible benefits of modern irrigation systems. The transition from flood irrigation and open ditches to gated pipes and pivots has led to significant improvements in water utilization efficiency. Beyond the agricultural realm, these changes resonate throughout the broader community by ensuring clearer waterways and healthier ecosystems downstream.


Photo from www.bellefourchewatershed.org

As Justin Krajewski, Project Coordinator of the Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, emphasizes, "It doesn't matter who accomplishes the task, whether it's NRCS or the partnership. What matters is that the job gets done on the ground to address resource concerns."


With the overarching goal of preserving both soil and water, the partnership's unwavering commitment is evident. Tyler Shaw, Soil Conservationist at Belle Fourche NRCS, highlights the transformative impact of converting open ditches to gated pipes. "By transforming these open ditches into gated pipes, we can reduce water loss by at least 33%. On soils suitable for pivot irrigation, we can achieve effective water placement usage of 80 to 90 percent," Shaw explains, highlighting the cascade of benefits downstream.


The ultimate aim remains steadfast—to conserve and enhance the land and water resources within the Belle Fourche River watershed. Through these united efforts, progress is palpable. Jeff Smeenk eloquently states, "The most important aspect is the conservation—the act of being more environmentally friendly. If we can demonstrate how we can be proactive in conserving resources, it's a huge plus for farmers and society as a whole."


As the Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership continues its remarkable journey, the impact on local communities and the environment is poised to be profound and lasting. Tim Reich concludes, "Our goal is to have no listed or impaired waters within the watershed, and I think we're on track to achieve that in the next 5 to 10 years." As we witness this inspiring collaboration unfold, it's evident that the future holds promise and progress for all.


Photo from www.bellefourchewatershed.org

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