SOUTH DAKOTA Department of
Environment & Natural Resources

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Water Rights

Summary of SD water laws & rules

The following is a summary of South Dakota water laws and rules. This summary is provided as a service of the Water Rights Program, Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the purpose of introducing the public to the water rights laws of South Dakota. The actual text of the laws and rules may be viewed at

Complete Summary in an Adobe PDF format (printer friendly)

PLEASE NOTE: The following summary is not a substitute for the South Dakota Codified Laws or Administrative Rules of South Dakota and is not intended to serve as legal advice. In the event there is a difference in interpretation between this document and South Dakota Codified Law or Administrative Rule, the law or rule controls.








WELLS -- Ground Water Management

WELLS -- Well Construction

WELLS -- Well Owner




1) Water in South Dakota is owned by the people of the state and not by private individuals. The right to use water may be obtained under State Law.

2) South Dakota water rights are administered by a system commonly called the “Doctrine of Prior Appropriation.” This means the first in time (senior priority) is the first in right, except for individual domestic use. Priority is established based on the date of filing the application. Uses of water developed prior to or under development as of March 2, 1955 (surface water) or February 28, 1955 (ground water) may qualify for a vested water right depending on the type of use involved.

3) Domestic use of water takes precedence over appropriative rights.

4) The seven member Water Management Board regulates water use, approves and denies permits, validates vested rights, cancels water right permits or rights, establishes ordinary high and low water marks for lakes as well as setting lake outlet elevations.

DOMESTIC WATER USE no permit needed

1) The following domestic uses do not require a water right permit:



1) Except for the previously described domestic water uses and water distribution systems (e.g. towns, rural water systems, subdivisions, and mobile home parks) that do not pump more than 18 gpm, all uses of water require a water right permit pursuant to procedures in SDCL Chapter 46-2A. Water uses supplied from a water distribution system do not need a separate permit. Examples of uses which require a permit are:

Fees for permit applications are set by SDCL 46-2-13(2).

Depending on the type of use involved a person who applied water to a beneficial use for works constructed prior to or under construction as of March 2, 1955 (surface water) or February 28, 1955 (ground water), may qualify for a vested right pursuant to SDCL 46-1-9 or 46-6-1, if that vested water right has not been forfeited or abandoned. Vested water right claims may be filed or the chief engineer may require vested water right claims to be filed pursuant to SDCL 46-5-49 or 46-6-2.

2) Criteria for granting a water right permit as set forth in SDCL 46-2A-9:



1) After approval of a water right permit, the permit owner has five years to complete any construction. The owner then has an additional four years to put the water to beneficial use.

A water right permit may be amended to extend the time for completion of construction or the time to put the water to beneficial use. The extension may be granted on account of delays due to physical or engineering difficulties, due to operation of law, or due to exigent circumstances identified by the Water Management Board. An application to amend a permit to extend the time for construction or the time to put the water to use needs to be made prior to expiration of the time period to be extended.

2) An existing water right permit or right may be amended. Amendment examples are: to change the use of water, to change place of use, to extend time for construction beyond five years, to change diversion points or to add diversion points. An amendment can not be granted to increase the rate of diversion or volume of water appropriated under the original permit or if an existing water right will be impaired. An application to increase the rate of diversion or volume of water will be treated as a new application and will be assigned a new priority date. The location of an existing diversion point may be moved or additional diversion points may be added without application or publication, if:

3) Notice of any sale, grant, lease, conveyance or other transfer of an application, permit, or license to appropriate water must be filed with the Chief Engineer of the Water Rights Program within 90 days. No assignment is binding, except upon the parties thereto, unless filed for record in the Water Rights Program.

4) Water right permits can be cancelled for nonconstruction. However, the Board may reinstate any water right permit with a priority date after March 31, 1977, within three years after expiration of the original construction period if unappropriated water is available. A new priority date is assigned to a reinstated permit. A water right permit or right can be lost for any of the following three reasons:


1) The following entities may reserve water for expected future needs pursuant to procedures in SDCL 46-2A:

Approval of an application to appropriate water for future use is a reservation of a definite amount of water with a specific priority date. A future use permit does not grant authority to construct works or put the water to beneficial use. An additional application is required to construct works and put reserved water to beneficial use. The fee for a future use application is 10% of the usual fee for an application to construct works and put water to beneficial use.

Future use permits are subject to review by the Water Management Board every seven years. If the future use permit is allowed to remain in effect after the seven year review, an additional 10% fee is required.



1) Flood control permits are required pursuant to SDCL 46-2A for facilities constructed on a watercourse to control flooding. Emergency facilities may be constructed without a permit. However, the Chief Engineer of the Water Rights Program must be promptly notified. Flood control permits are not required for flood control facilities constructed on dry draws.



1) Temporary water permits may be issued by the Chief Engineer when limited amounts of public water are needed on a temporary basis. For example, permission may be granted to use water for highway and other construction projects and exploration drilling. A temporary permit is not valid after December 31 of the year in which the permit was issued and, under certain circumstances, a temporary permit may be rescinded. In addition, a temporary permit is temporary permission to use public water and does not grant any right of priority for the temporary use.

Temporary permits may be granted to use water from either public or privately owned sources of water. Approval of a temporary permit does not grant trespass rights to access the water. Water may be obtained from municipalities and other permitted water distribution systems without a temporary permit.



1) Ground Water Management

2) Well Construction

3) Well Owner Responsibilities



1) Dams or dugouts of any size on a navigable watercourse or storing greater than 25 acre feet of water located on a dry draw or on a nonnavigable watercourse require a water right permit.

2) Dams or dugouts storing 25 acre feet or less of water located on a dry draw or on a nonnavigable watercourse can be constructed without a water right permit provided a location notice is filed. However, the dam may not be constructed if it changes the course of the water, interferes with water rights, or wrongfully floods land owned by others.

3) The owner of a dam or dugout storing 25 acre feet or less on a dry draw must file a location notice with the county Register of Deeds and the Water Management Board to avail the owner of the rights provided in SDCL Chapter 46-4 including establishment of a priority date. The $50.00 filing fee is set by SDCL 46-2-13(1).

4) The Board may not enforce limitations on domestic use of water from dry draw dams except in response to a written complaint from a person claiming interference with water permits or rights on the same watercourse.

5) Water Management Board Safety of Dams Rules Chapter 74:02:08 apply to dams that are 25 feet or more in height (top of dam) or that store 50 acre-feet or more of water (maximum storage to top of dam.)

6) Beaver dams - No person owning land through which a watercourse passes may prohibit the removal of obstructions built by beavers in a watercourse, if the beavers have obstructed or interfered with the flow of water through the watercourse in a manner that floods land belonging to others or impairs existing water rights.


1) The Water Management Board establishes ordinary high water marks (OHWM), ordinary low water marks (OLWM) and lake outlet elevations for public lakes.

State law provides that all navigable rivers and lakes are public highways within 50 feet landward from the water's nearest edge, provided that the outer boundary of such public highway may not expand beyond the OHWM and may not contract within the OLWM. Thus, the public has the right to use a strip of land up to 50 feet wide below the OHWM beginning at the water's edge or the OLWM. Further, while the public may use the 50 foot strip of land for only "public" purposes, the private adjoining landowner may use the land for any purpose not inconsistent with the rights of the public.

The meander line is a survey line and is usually not a property line nor is the title of an adjacent landowner limited to the meander line, except when the land title conveyance clearly states that the meander line is the property line. Subject to the preceding exception, the meander line defines neither the boundary of a lake or stream nor the extent of land area owned by the adjacent landowner. The meander line was established during early government surveys and used to determine the acres of land subject to sale.