Nonmeandered waters issue still vexing South Dakota landowners, anglers

PIERRE, S.D. — Lawmakers are set to study how the use of publicly-owned bodies of water over privately-owned land should be regulated, an issue that has vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

The Legislature’s Executive Board voted Tuesday on topics to study ahead of the 2018 session.

The first study committee would look at nonmeandered waters, which are bodies of water — usually smaller in size — that weren’t specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s.

It would encompass issues including a recent state Supreme Court decision that said the South Dakota Legislature must determine if and how the public can use nonmeandered waters for recreation.

Since the high court decision, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks limited access to infrastructure on more than 20 lakes in the state. It came after Day County landowners filed a lawsuit seeking to secure injunctions against hunters and anglers and the department that would prevent public use of lakes on their property.

Rich Widman, president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the issue goes beyond people who want to use the water. He said losing access impacts taxpayers and will hurt businesses from bait shops to restaurants.

“Everybody has a dog in this fight you might say — or a fish in this fight,” Widman said. “People need to realize that they better care about outdoor issues because it affects them not only for the recreational use, but also their pocketbooks.”

Hunter Roberts, a policy adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said it’s a tough issue that will take at least a summer study to give it the necessary due diligence.

The 15-member study committee is also set to look at private property protections, public access to waters, the regulation and management of nonmeandered waters and defining recreational use. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm is set to chair the panel.

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