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SOUTH DAKOTA Department of
Agriculture & Natural Resources

Protecting South Dakota's Tomorrow...Today!
Joe Foss Building
523 E Capitol Ave
Pierre, SD 57501-3182
Contact Us  Field Offices

Water Rights

Step by Step Instructions for a Water Right Permit Application

These instructions will help guide you through completing your application for a water right permit.  If you have any questions about completing the forms or whether you need a permit, please e-mail Eric Gronlund or Ron Duvall or call one of us at (605) 773-3352.  You may also refer to the summary of South Dakota water laws and rules or frequently asked questions about water rights for answers to permitting questions. Also, you are invited to stop by the water rights office in Pierre for assistance.  Our office is located in the lower level of the Joe Foss building just across the street from the Capitol building. Please don't hesitate to ask for help!

Application forms can be downloaded or obtained from the Water Rights Program at the address given below.  Please fill out your application by printing in permanent ink, using a typewriter, or completing the downloaded forms on your computer -- just click in each cell to move from question to question. After completing your application, mail your application forms, map, fee, and any other attachments to:

Water Rights Program
523 E Capitol
Pierre SD 57501


Step 1:  Type of Water Use

Except for irrigation water use, any type of water use can be applied for by using the same two page application forms.  The irrigation form is similar to the nonirrigation form except for an area on the form used to describe the legal description of the area to be irrigated. For nonirrigation water uses, you may specify as many types of water use as are applicable to your water use project.  However, an application may refer to only one water use project. Separate projects require separate applications.


Step 2: Type of Application

Depending on the situation, your application will be for one of five different types of applications:


Type of Application
New A new application is for a proposed water use or for an existing water use that has not been permitted and that does not qualify for vested right status (see next description)
Vested Right A vested water right claim may be filed for water uses that began on or prior to March 2, 1955 for surface water and on or prior to February 28, 1955 for ground water and that have not subsequently been forfeited due to nonuse of water or abandoned.
Future Use Reservation A future use reservation sets aside a specific amount of water for use at a later date. Only certain entities as listed in SD Codified Law 46-5-38 may apply for a future use permit. An individual may not reserve water for future use.
Place Water to Beneficial Use Reserved for Future Use by Permit No. ____ This application allows the holder of an existing future use permit to apply for a permit to place all or part of the water reserved to beneficial use. If approved, the water right permit will have the same priority date as assigned to the existing future use permit.
Amendment/Correction to Permit No. _______ This application allows the holder of an existing water right permit to make changes to the permit such as adding diversion points, moving diversion points, changing water uses, etc. An amendment may not increase the diversion rate or volume of water appropriated under the existing permit. Depending on the type of amendment and effects to existing water users, it is possible that the amendment could be approved in-house by the chief engineer.


Step 3: Applicant Information

This portion of the application determines who will hold the water right permit if the application is approved. An applicant may be a person, partnership, association, corporation, municipality, state of South Dakota or political subdivisions of state and federal agencies.  It is also important to identify on the application whether you are the owner or the tenant/lessee of the water use project.  Following approval of an application, it is possible for a water right permit to be transferred to a new owner by the new owner completing a transfer of ownership form. In the case of an irrigation water right, ownership of the water right is contingent upon owning the irrigated acreage.  The new owner of irrigated property is responsible for filing a transfer of ownership with the Water Rights Program.


Step 4: Water Use Information

Here is where you supply details concerning your proposed water use.

Amount of Water Claimed.  The amount of water being claimed can be specified in either cubic feet of water per second (CFS) or in gallons per minute (GPM). In addition, the maximum annual number of acre-feet (AF) to be diverted may also be specified.

1 CFS = 448.8 GPM
1 AF = 325,851 gallons

When deciding what amount of water to claim for nonirrigation uses, please keep in mind the following:

When deciding what amount of water to claim for irrigation uses, please keep in mind the following:

If you are applying for an irrigation permit, you will also need to list the total number of acres to be irrigated and provide the legal description of the acreage by forty acre subdivisions.

Source of Water Supply.  Please specify the name of the water source, whether surface or ground water, and the number of diversion points.  A diversion point is the location at which water is to be diverted for your water use. This diversion point may be a well, water storage dam, diversion dam, dugout, pump site along a surface water source, etc.

Location of Point of Diversion (pumping locations).  Please list the legal description for each proposed diversion point and the county or counties in which water will be diverted or placed to beneficial use.   Diversion point locations need to be as specific as possible and be referenced to a government section corner or quarter corner.

Annual Period of Water Use.  Please identify the portion of each calendar year that water is to be placed to beneficial use. Be sure to include the entire portion of the year that you plan to use water -- you are limited in your water use to the portion of the year listed on the application.


Step 5: Description of Water Use and Signature Line

Please provide a brief description of your proposed or existing water use project. Including as much detail as possible about how the water is to be used will help ensure that your application is complete.  Also, if you have any attachments that would help explain your project, refer to the attachment here and send the attachment(s) along with your application.  Don't forget to sign your application in the presence of a notary public! This requirement is sometimes overlooked resulting in needless delays.


Step 6: Supplemental Information

This is the second (and last!) page of the application forms for a water right permit. There are four sections to this form and we will step through each section listed below. It is unlikely that all of these sections apply to your proposed project so please complete only the applicable sections.

Well Information - Proposed Construction

Your South Dakota licensed well driller can assist you with completing most of this section. However, you are probably in the best position to answer the last question concerning approximate distances to existing domestic wells on your property and on property owned by others.  In addition to information about the proposed well construction, a log of a test hole signed by a licensed well driller needs to be submitted with your permit application.

There are several reasons for drilling a test hole/well:

- Determining if water is available at the site and from the aquifer you are specifying on your application
- Identifying on your application how many wells are needed to get the amount of water you need
- Collecting a water sample to see if the water quality is suitable for your proposed use

If it is not practical to drill a test hole, then note why it is not practical on the form and specify the geologic formations expected to be encountered while drilling in lieu of submitting a test hole log.  A copy of a log (well completion report) of an existing nearby well can be used to provide information about the formations expected to be encountered during the drilling of your proposed well.

If the well already exists, then a copy of the well completion report for the well needs to be submitted with your application.  A well completion report is completed by the well driller at the time the well was drilled and describes the physical characteristics of the completed well such as depth, casing and screen dimensions, well depth, formations encountered while drilling, etc.  If a well completion report is not available, then note so on the form and provide as much information as possible concerning how the well is constructed.


Wastewater Disposal System Information

Please complete this section if your proposed water use will result in the production of wastewater.

Dugout Information

Please complete this section if your proposed water source is from a dugout or dugouts. If more than one dugout is being used, please note the number dugouts and provide dimensions for each dugout.

Water Storage Dams

Please complete this section if your proposed water source is from a dam or dams.  If more than one dam is being used, please note the number of dams and provide dimensions for each dam. The designer of your dam or dams should be able to provide you most of this information.

Depending on the size of your dam or dams, you may also need to comply with the South Dakota Safety of Dams Rules Chapter 74:02:08. Compliance with these rules is necessary if the dam or dams are:

- 25 feet or greater in height to the dam crest and storage to the crest elevation is greater than 15 acre-feet, or
- the height to the crest is greater than 6 feet and storage to the crest elevation is 50 acre-feet or more.

To comply with these rules you will need to have plans and specifications prepared for each dam and a preliminary risk assessment describing downstream hazards if the dam or dams should breach.  A South Dakota registered professional engineer or someone employed by a federal or state agency who does dam design work as part of their job while under the supervision of a professional engineer can prepare the plans and specifications and the risk assessment.


Step 7: Application Map

Your application also needs to include a neat, legible map prepared by a South Dakota licensed land surveyor, a South Dakota registered professional engineer, or by a government employee who regularly prepares such maps as part of employment and which meets the following requirements:

Many applicants choose to use an aerial photo for their application map. Aerial photos, such as the one shown as an example, can be obtained from your local Farm Services Agency.  If your proposed project relates to services provided by the Farm Services Agency or Natural Resources Conservation Service, someone in one of these agencies may be able to assist you with completion of the map.  Other applicants may have existing plat maps available which will suffice or which a registered land surveyor or professional engineer could modify to meet the above requirements.


Step 8: Application Fee

The application fee is calculated using a graduated fee system that is dependent upon the amount of water specified on your application plus a $200.00 inspection/licensing fee.  Please refer to the table below to calculate the amount of your fee:


Fee Amount
Amount of Water
$500.00 First *120 acre-feet of water (75 gallons per minute) or **fraction thereof
$250.00 Next 120 acre-feet of water (75 gallons per minute) or fraction thereof
$100.00 Each subsequent 120 acre-feet of water (75 gallons per minute) or fraction thereof
Fee Amount
Inspection/Licensing of Approved Application
$200.00 If your application is approved, a licensing inspection will be completed following development of your water use project. Issuance of a water license is the final step in obtaining a water right in South Dakota.

*The application fee for an irrigation permit can be calculated using the above graduated fee structure by substituting 60 acre increments in place of the 120 acre-feet increments in the table. This is assuming that you are applying for the statutory standard of 2 acre-feet per acre. In addition, the $200.00 inspection/licensing fee will also need to be submitted with your application.

**The fee for an application to appropriate 0.1 cubic feet per second (45 gpm) or less is $100.00 plus a $200.00 inspection/licensing fee. A total fee of $100.00 is needed for an application to amend an existing water right permit with no increase in the existing water appropriation.

To apply for a future use permit, the application fee is equal to 10% of the fee calculated using the above graduated fee structure excluding the $200.00 inspection/licensing fee.

The total fee to file a vested water right claim is $50.00 regardless of the amount of water being claimed.


Checks can be made payable to the Water Rights Program.

Step 9: Soil/Water Analysis for Irrigation Water Use -- *Optional

An important consideration in developing an irrigation project is assessing the compatibility of the soils with the quality of the water to be used for irrigation.   Some soil types need careful management and other soils may not be suitable for irrigation if the water supply has a high sodium or salt content.  Reduced crop yields and damage to the soil structure may occur without proper irrigation management. Your soil/water analysis may make the difference between a successful or an unsuccessful irrigation project.

*In most instances, completion of a soil/water analysis will be at the discretion of the applicant. However, the chief engineer may request an applicant to complete an analysis if the chief engineer believes that a soil/water compatibility problem may develop.   If necessary, this issue may be brought to the state Water Management Board for resolution.  Again, completion of a soil/water analysis will be beneficial and is highly recommended even if not requested by the chief engineer.

Click here for details about completing a soil/water analysis.

Final check list!

checkmark Application forms (including Supplemental Information form, if applicable)

checkmark Well driller's test hole log or well completion report for existing well(s), if applicable

checkmark Safety of dams -- plans and specifications and preliminary risk assessment, if applicable

checkmark Any additional attachments describing the proposed water use project

checkmark Application map (required)

checkmark Application fee (required)


If all the applicable items on check list are completed, then you are ready to send your application packet to the water rights program. Our mailing address is located on the upper left hand corner of the application form.

After receipt of your application and attachments, the application will be reviewed for completeness and then a report and recommendation will be prepared by the water rights staff and chief engineer.  This report and recommendation, along with a notice which needs to be published in your local paper, will be sent to you. After reviewing this information, you will need to contact the newspaper to authorize the paper to publish your notice and to arrange for payment of the notice.  Please don't be concerned about remembering all of this! We will help guide you through every step by direct correspondence.  Again, let us know if you have any questions. Our phone number and e-mail addresses are available at the top of this page.

If your application is approved, you will be issued a water right permit for your water use project. After completion of your project, an on-site inspection will be scheduled to determine if the constructed works comply with all water right permit requirements and are safely constructed.  Following the inspection, a water license is issued for the project and the water right permit becomes a water right.  The water license is issued for the actual amount of water placed to beneficial use and is the final step in obtaining a water right in South Dakota.   As long as you continue making beneficial use of the water, the water right remains in effect.

For additional information on the processing of your application, please refer to our web pages showing a flowchart of the application process or to a description of application and hearing procedures. Frequently asked questions about water rights also provide a brief description about what happens following the approval of a water right permit.