DENR helps start local water quality assessment of Vermillion River

DENR helps start local water quality assessment of Vermillion River The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has announced that a major water quality project for the Vermillion River watershed is ready to begin.

The water quality assessment project, approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will take about three years to complete. It will seek to identify and document pollutant sources, and identify feasible restoration alternatives to improve or maintain water quality.

The project area includes the Vermillion River, its tributaries, and lakes through a nine-county area in southeastern South Dakota. The Vermillion Basin Water Development District will serve as the local project sponsor.

"Protecting and improving the water quality of our lakes and rivers is in everyone's best interest," said DENR Secretary Steve Pirner. "DENR is proud to help local project sponsors such as the Vermillion Basin Water Development District identify both water quality problems and solutions that will work for the local people in the watershed."

The Vermillion River Basin was listed on the state's total maximum daily load (TMDL) list. Congress required all states through Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act to prepare a biennial list of waterbodies that do not consistently meet water quality standards for their designated beneficial uses.

After being listed, a water quality assessment project must be completed to gather water quality data throughout the watershed. That data is then used to calculate a total maximum daily load which is the amount of pollution a waterbody can receive and still maintain water quality standards.

The goal of a total maximum daily load is to ensure that waters consistently maintain water quality standards that have been set to protect designated beneficial uses, such as fishing, swimming, or irrigation.

DENR regularly monitors the water quality of the Vermillion River through its on-going water quality monitoring network. Those monitoring results indicate the Vermillion River occasionally violates water quality standards for Total Suspended Solids, which is a measurement of the amount of sediment being carried by the river, and fecal coliform bacteria, which is an indicator that wastes from warm blooded animals are getting into the river.

The study will also measure other water quality characteristics, such as the amount of ammonia, phosphorus, and dissolved oxygen in the water.

The nine-county assessment will cost $564,000, and is being paid for with local, state, and federal funds. Local funds are being provided by the Vermillion Basin Water Development District, East Dakota Water Development District, James River Water Development District, and Lincoln and McCook counties.

For more information or to provide comments about the assessment project, please contact Alan Wittmuss of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources or Brad Preheim of the Vermillion Basin Water Development District. Wittmuss can be reached in Vermillion at 605-677-6163 or by email at Preheim can be reached in Centerville at 605-563-2883 or by email at

To learn more about the project, total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), or the agencies involved, visit the DENR Web site at WatershedProtection.

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