BIG SIOUX RIVER PROJECT HISTORY
New Name, Same Water Quality Goal
If we look all the way back to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, you will find our origins! This act was the basis for the Clean Water Act of 1972, which tasked states with assigning the beneficial uses for state water bodies. Once these beneficial uses were established, each body of water was evaluated to determine whether it met the EPA defined standards for water quality. Out of public concern for water qualoity problems related to high suspended sediment loads impacting fish populations and high bacterial loads that limited water use for swimming and fishing, watershed assessments were conducted in the Big Sioux Watershed beginning back in 1999.
During the 2002 Big Sioux River Watershed Assessment, the South Dakota Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) examined water quality within the Lower Big Sioux River, Central Big Sioux River, North-Central Big Sioux River, and Oakwood Lakes Watersheds. These assessments looked at contaminants such as dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids (TSS), and bacteria (fecal coliform and E. coli). By 2004, DENR established the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits for the intended beneficial uses of various water bodies. Impairments from TSS, dissolved oxygen, and/or bacteria which exceeded the TMDLs prevented several water bodies from meeting their designated uses. These segments were placed under implementation strategies which work to reduce sediment loading and prevent bacterial contamination using best management practices (BMPs).
In October of 2007, the first project implementation plan (PIP) initiated the creation of a watershed project specifically focused on BMPs designed to reduce fecal coliform bacteria and TSS loading into the Big Sioux River.
At the time this initial implementation strategy was developed, the Big Sioux River watershed was divided into several additional segments and was divided differently than what we see today. The Big Sioux River watershed was divided into the Lower, Central, and Upper Big Sioux River Projects. In August of 2012, the Central Big Sioux River Project and the Lower Big Sioux Watershed Projects unified under the name "Central Big Sioux River Watershed Implementation Project." Over time, the name evolved to the "Big Sioux River Watershed Implementation Project" (2015), and finally the "Big Sioux River Project" (2020). The Big Sioux River Project (BSRP for short) works to implement BMPs along riparian areas in the Big Sioux River watershed from Estelline, South Dakota, to Sioux City, Iowa.
Our territory and our name may have changed over the years, but our goal has remained constant: to restore and/or maintain the water quality of the Big Sioux River and its tributaries to meet the designated beneficial uses. That is why we proudly say "we are water quality".
One of the reasons these boundary and name changes have occurred is a result of Project Segment reports. Watershed improvement projects, like the Big Sioux River Project, create a Project Implementation Plan (PIP) that establishes the goals and budgets of a multi-segment, multi-year strategic plan. The PIP identifies a roadmap of actions, target milestones, and related best management practices that are proven to address specific impairments within the watershed. There is no "one size fits all" approach to water quality improvements, so over the years we have had to adjust our approach based on the needs of the watershed. By breaking the goals of the project into Segments, this allows the project to address the most immediate needs and priorities of the various streams and rivers within the watershed using the most up-to date science, market demands, and BMPs. Throughout each segment, the BSRP is able to generate reports that showcase water quality improvements, assess our progress toward Segment milestone targets, and communicate progress status updates to our partners. Each Segment consists of a period of five years and requires consistent reporting to project sponsors and partner entities.
In Segment 2, the Central Big Sioux River Watershed Project and the Lower Big Sioux River Watershed Project combined to address the watershed as one comprehensive project. This allowed the milestones, budgets, and practices to seamlessly combine into one report that could be used to communicate actions taken to improve water quality in the watershed. Full reports from completed Segments are available for download on our Reports page.
Segmenting watershed projects like the BSRP enables us to report updates in BMP adoption to stakeholders and project sponsors on a biannual basis. Through this reporting process, we examine the most recent integrated report (IR) listing of impaired watersheds from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) to ensure we are promoting BMPs that address the impairments exceeding the TMDL for the waterbodies in our watershed. For example, during Segment 3, Skunk Creek was delisted for TSS impairments (2016 IR). This great news meant we were able to adjust our focus in the area surrounding Skunk Creek to address the remaining impairment of E. coli
The Big Sioux River Project is currently mid-way through Segment 4. We are actively promoting Best Management Practices that address impairments to the Big Sioux River's various streams, rivers, and tributaries. You can learn more about these BMPs through our Programs page. Additionally, we have placed a greater focus on community outreach and watershed education; placing an emphasis on community engagement with the project.
You can check on the current impairment status of South Dakota lakes and streams by engaging with this map, courtesy of South Dakota DANR.