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Alliance asks Boundary Commission to scrutinize Big Stone II water permit

MONTEVIDEO -- An alliance of citizens groups and landowners working to clean up the Minnesota River is asking Gov. Tim Pawlenty to reconvene the South Dakota-Minnesota Boundary Waters Commission.

The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance wants the commission to look at the water appropriation permit for the proposed Big Stone II power plant and overall management of Big Stone Lake, which lies on the western border of Minnesota.

The Watershed Alliance cites concerns raised by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over a permit issued by the State of South Dakota on Aug. 29 to the owners of the proposed Big Stone II power plant. It allows the proposed plant to withdraw up to 3.2 billion gallons of water annually from Big Stone Lake.

A letter by Kent Lokkesmoe, director of the division of waters for the DNR, raised a variety of issues to the South Dakota Water Management Board when it convened to consider the permit.

The DNR asked that action on a permit be postponed until the two states have an opportunity to reach a consensus on managing the lake.

The DNR cited the potential for adverse impacts on the lake's fishery and the Minnesota River.

In the letter, the DNR urged that South Dakota require Otter Tail Power and the other partners in the Big Stone II project to explore other alternative water sources not tied to surface water system. It also urged that the project consider taking a portion of the water from the Whetstone River.

In its letter to Pawlenty, the Watershed Alliance stated that Minnesota agencies would not allow the appropriation of billions of gallons of water from Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River system without consultation with the state of Wisconsin.

"Why should the state of South Dakota think that (it) can act unilaterally?'' asks the Watershed Alliance in its letter.

The Watershed Alliance has not yet heard a response from Gov. Pawlenty, but it is hopeful that the governor will seriously consider the request, said Patrick Moore of the Montevideo based Clean Up our River Environment.

The letter writers told the governor that they believe that South Dakota's action could set a dangerous precedent if let unchallenged.

The South Dakota Board of Water Management approved an appropriation permit for an additional 10,000 cubic feet of water per year to be appropriated for Big Stone II. In its findings, the South Dakota board set restrictions that allow the water to be taken only when the water elevation in the lake is at 967 feet in the May through September period.

It also allows water to be taken with restrictions in the October through April period when the water level is at 965 feet or above.

Otter Tail proposes to build a 500-acre storage pond to hold water for cooling needs of the Big Stone II plant. It also appropriates water from Big Stone Lake to supply the Northern Lights ethanol plant.