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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

Organization - Water Rights Program


The administrative section assists applicants with completing application forms and also reviews each application to appropriate water or vested water right claim to ensure the applicant has successfully Center pivot irrigating fieldprepared a complete application. After reviewing an application for completeness, the administrative section prepares a public notice and then prepares the water right permit for issuance following approval of anapplication. Currently, there are approximately 5,000 surface water diversions and about 4,000 ground water diversions in South Dakota.   In addition, all other business related to maintenance of existing water right permits or rights such as transfers of ownership, licensing of a water right permit, or amendments to existing permits or rights is handled by the administrative section. Temporary water permits for road construction projects or similar short term water uses are also processed by the administrative section. Water right records are public records open to inspection and are legal documents that may be used as evidence in disputes. For more information on water rights permitting and applications please refer to using water in South Dakota or the SD Environmental Permitting and Regulation Guide.

Each year the administrative section sends out the irrigation water use questionnaire to approximately 2,000 irrigators across the state. This water use information allows the water rights program to determine whether additional water is available for use when someone files an application for a new appropriation.



The engineering section includes safety of dams inspections, establishment of ordinary high and low water marks, plugging of uncontrolled flowing wells and modeling activities. All high hazard dams, dams where loss of life may occur if the dam fails, and all state owned dams are inspected.  Also, the Water Rights Program participates in the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) and administers the Safety of Dams rules

Ordinary high and low water marks are determined for public lakes following field investigations and preparation of a report with recommendations.  The marks establish what lands around lakes can be used by the public.  Investigations of uncontrolled flowing wells are conducted to determine if the well can be controlled or if the well must be plugged to prevent waste of water.  In addition, the Water Rights Program provides technical assistance to plug abandoned wells or control wells and in some cases prepares the contract and awards bids for plugging a well.  Some modeling of ground water and surface flows is completed using HEC I, HEC II, Dambreak and USGS ground water models.


Ground Water

Well drilling rig

The ground water section oversees the regulation of ground water supplies primarily in terms of the quantity of ground water. Two of the major focuses within this section are the observation well network and well construction standards. The observation well network consists of 1,600 wells which are used to continuously collect water level and water quality data. Data collected from the observation wells is maintained for public record and is used in a variety of ways. The observation well records provide geologic and hydrologic data which are used to evaluate the effects of climatic conditions and the effects of aquifer development. Well construction activities consist of licensing well drillers and enforcing the well construction standards for all wells.


Surface Water

South Dakota map showing stream gaging locations

The surface water section oversees the monitoring and regulation of the surface waters of the state.Monitoring is done in cooperation with the US Geological Survey through use of 52 stream gauging stations located throughout the state. Real-time stream flows and historical flows are available through the USGeological Survey website.  Hydrologic analyses of stream systems are conducted based on stream gaugingstation data to determine if water supplies are available for additional appropriations. Flooding issues alongrivers or lakes are investigated and, if requested by a county, technical assistance may be provided ondrainage projects. This section is also responsible for review of Missouri River issues involving operation ofthe mainstem reservoirs by the US Army Corps of Engineers.