PIERRE, S.D. — Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed a bill to make permanent an expiring law that governs the use of lakes on private land for recreation.
The Republican governor initially pushed the Legislature during the 2018 session to move the law’s June expiration to 2021, but lawmakers instead sent him a bill that removed the sunset. He wrote in a recent column that the water rules are working.
“Although access to public waters will always be an issue, after twenty years we have finally brought certainty and found an answer that is working for landowners and sportsmen,” said Daugaard, who signed the permanent extension into law on Friday.
The new rules were the product of a June special legislative session on so-called nonmeandered waters.
Nonmeandered waters are bodies of water that weren’t specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s. Some private property has since flooded, forming new, unofficial bodies of water and creating good fishing. But that has come at the cost of farmland and pastures lost by agriculture producers.
The issue has long vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts. Eric Cleveringa, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Wildlife Federation Camo Coalition, told a state Senate panel in January that the law violates the public trust doctrine by allowing private control of public water.
The law signed June 12 restored access to nearly 30 specific lakes for public recreation hampered after a state Supreme Court decision that year. State officials intervened after the high court said the Legislature needed to decide the extent the public could use the waters on private land for recreation.
The law also says lakes on private property are open for recreational use unless a landowner installs signs or buoys saying an area is closed, though property owners could still grant permission to use the water.
Daugaard has called the lakes an “economic engine,” saying their closure hurt small-town businesses. Donna Bumann’s bait shop and motel in Lake Preston suffered “crippling” sales declines after the state restricted access to a lake called “Dry #2.” Business stayed down all summer.
Bumann said she’s concerned a lot of people traveled elsewhere last year and will return to those places instead of coming to South Dakota.
“Man, I would really love to see the Department of Tourism do something to let people know that this is a good place for a sportsmen again, let them know that our lakes are open, we welcome you, we missed you, we’d love to see you again,” Bumann said. “If people don’t come back this summer, then you will not be calling me in 2019, I can tell you that. I need the people to come back.”