The Big Sioux River cuts through 419 miles of prairie. Stretching from Roberts County and tumbling over the falls of Sioux Falls, the river races through southeast South Dakota and terminates at the Missouri River in North Sioux City. Despite its relatively small size, the Big Sioux greatly shaped the development of eastern South Dakota. The striking falls prompted the foundation of the military base that would eventually become the biggest city in the state. The presence of the river drew settlers to Flandreau and convinced them of the area’s agricultural potential. Today, parks line the banks of the Big Sioux that provide recreation and tourism opportunities, reinforcing the aesthetic and economic relevance of the river in the 21st century.
Over South Dakota’s 200 years of development, the river has changed and, unfortunately, suffered. With the introduction of agriculture to the area, the destruction of native prairie land removed the elaborate underground root system that helped filter water and slow erosion. As commercial agriculture developed, runoff containing fertilizer, manure, pesticides, and other chemicals has contributed to regular occurrences of E. Coli, suspended sediment, and algal blooms. Towns and cities continued to grow along the riverbank, contributing to high pollution levels. In Sioux Falls, early industry used the river to dispose of waste and, until the 1970s, raw sewage was deposited into the river. Over the years, the Big Sioux River has accrued a poor reputation, ranking on the list of the nation’s dirtiest rivers and containing newsworthy levels of E. Coli.
Over the years, civic-minded South Dakotans have observed this trend and fought against it. In the 1970s, RISE—a river improvement society—pressured the City of Sioux Falls to address its point source pollution problem. As a result of their cooperation with city officials, Sioux Falls removed toxic debris from the river, suspended dumping sewage and industrial waste in the river, and proposed and developed the Greenway. Other towns along the river, too, have devoted resources to improving their relationship with the river by building parks and repairing infrastructure.
Though we have come a long way in the past few decades, the Big Sioux River still faces significant challenges and still requires an advocate. With increased urban development and higher demands placed on agriculture, the state of the river too easily becomes an afterthought. Friends of the Big Sioux River recognizes the importance and the potential of our river and is dedicated to reminding South Dakota of its value.
Friends of the Big Sioux River is on a mission to change the way we all think about our relationship with our river. We want to bring awareness to the plight of this cultural, economic and environmental backbone of Eastern South Dakota. We’re here to inspire action among all who influence the quality of water within the watershed. This is about unifying South Dakota residents and leaders from all walks of life — all ages, all businesses, anyone with a hope for a better future. Improving water quality is about finding solutions in a positive, collaborative way. It’s about taking responsibility together. Not assigning blame.
We see an opportunity to unite and deploy people from all walks of life who share a stake in the improvement of this precious namesake of our city. Stakeholders include anyone who lives, works or plays in an urban, rural, private, commercial, or government setting within the Big Sioux River watershed. This means you.
A Reason to Care
Recent water crises across the US have elevated awareness regarding the importance of water and rivers for communities. By being proactive, we can avoid the struggles and costs associated with the maltreatment of an important resource. Water quality is important for:
- Growth & Development - people are attracted to a community for its quality of life, which includes clean water, scenery, and recreation.
- Recreation & Tourism - a clean river attracts tourists and residents who want to fish, kayak, and swim. According to a 2012 study by the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreationists spent $120.7 billion on equipment and $524.8 billion on hospitality services, generating a $1.6 trillion economic impact and 12 million jobs. A healthy river equals a healthy economy.
- Safe Local Water - protecting local water allows communities to source water locally, which is cheaper and simpler than piping it in from long distances.
- Health of People & Wildlife - every living creature needs clean water for healthy development. Unclean water can be hazardous, even deadly.
- Unsafe Water Costs - as a source of drinking water, treatment costs are reduced when pollution is less. In treating water for the city of Des Moines, the Des Moines Water Works spent $7,000 a day removing excess nitrates, a cost that is ultimately passed on to the consumers.
Friends of the Big Sioux River strives to combat non-point source pollution. FBSR’s strategy to achieve this goal is through the encouragement of the following practices:
- Reducing urban runoff through better landscaping practices and topsoil management
- Urging Low Impact Development practices for residences and commercial districts
- Implementing riparian strips along waterways