For people living up and down the Missouri River, sedimentation is more than ugly.
At Friday’s workshop in Yankton, people from South Dakota and Nebraska shared stories of how sediment and siltation has forced them to look for other water supplies. They talked about the impact on their property and how the sediment is negatively affecting tourism, recreation and quality of life.
In addition, Ponca and Santee Sioux tribal leaders expressed concerns about the impact of any action on their historical and cultural lands as well as their people and economy.
But Friday also brought a call for action.
The Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC) and other agencies are seeking federal funds for creating a plan to attack the problem on Lewis and Clark Lake.
"The primary goal is to identify stakeholders to partner in submitting a letter of request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a sediment management plan for Lewis and Clark Lake," said MSAC Executive Director Sandy Stockholm of Springfield.
The study will help determine a focus that will win broad political and financial support, Stockholm said. "We want to get it down to two options," she said.
In particular, Friday’s gathering talking about Section 1179(a) of the federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 2016.
"The act directs the Corps to carry out a pilot program for the development and implementation of sediment management plans for the reservoirs under the jurisdiction of the Secretary in the Upper Missouri River Basin," Stockholm said. "That includes the watershed above Sioux City, Iowa."
In the process, MSAC and its partners are seeking $600,000 in federal funds to determine a course of action, Stockholm said. Based on the cost-share requirement, stakeholders would need to raise $250,000 for a study.
"MSAC has already committed $25,000," Stockholm said. "We had a really diverse group of people here today. Right now, we’re focusing in Lewis and Clark Lake because it’s filling up at a faster rate and it’s the smallest lake on the reservoirs system.
"But the work we do here will benefit not only the Missouri River but also other rivers across the United States. We need broad support, or we won’t get anything done."
In terms of winning federal support, the effort received a boost in one aspect. Friday’s audience included staff members from U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.)
In the end, all actions point one direction, said MSAC board member Tim Cowman, who serves as state geologist with the South Dakota Geological Survey.
"Our goal is to move the sediment downstream, where you have the free-flowing river below Gavins Point Dam (near Yankton)," he said. "We’re starting to talk about a solution and the methods that we need to use in order to reach those solutions."
Cowman saw a different sense of urgency at Friday’s workshop.
"We have talked for years about the problem. Now, people are ready to go to work. The first step is seeing what direction we are headed and how we make things happen," he said. "We’ve done a lot of studies. Now we need to look at solutions."
Friday’s meeting brought forth parties not previously seen at MSAC meetings, Cowman said.
"We need to show how the local stakeholders are affected. Today, we had different groups here than you normally see. MSAC had worked to keep this going, and we see new interest here. The new groups will provide some new momentum."
The sedimentation damage goes far beyond the Yankton region, said Brigham Young University sediment researcher Rollin Hotchkiss.
"The Niobrara River contributes 2,000 tons of sand a day (into Lewis and Clark Lake)," he said. "The impact isn’t felt only by the upstream communities and agencies. There are millions of dollars in damages downstream. You need to get those people involved with this."
Any study needs to follow the "3 by 3 by 3" regulation, Hotchkiss said.
"It needs to take less than three years, cost less than $3 million, and the final report can’t stand more than three inches tall," he said.
Hotchkiss urged an invitation to Missouri and other downstream states for the next meeting planned in about a month. The gesture would be more than goodwill, he said. It would bring together currently competing upstream and downstream states into a much more powerful bloc of votes and congressional representation.
The latter support can prove crucial in ways beyond securing federal dollars, Hotchkiss said.
"It would literally take an act of Congress to fix a couple of things that are wrong (with current law and policy)," he said.
In that regard, the Yankton delegation received an encouraging response on the sediment on its annual visit to Washington, D.C., said Carmen Schramm, the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.
"We had such a good conversation with our congressional delegation," she said.
Schramm emphasized that the chamber works for the betterment of the entire region.
"The quality of life is so important for all of us here," she said. "It attracts businesses and families. And the river is one of the most important and reliable factors for us."
Lewis and Clark District Park Manager Jeff VanMeetern said he sees the sedimentation battle headed to the next level.
"People are tired of talking. They want action," he said. "And the way to do that is to get a plan and make sure we have everything we need to draw up that plan. This needs to be multi-faceted with the help of various agencies and organizations."
Friday’s workshop shows that the impact of sedimentation runs much broader and deeper than previously realized, said Yankton City Commissioner Charlie Gross, who serves on the Yankton Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee.
.District 18 Sen. Craig Kennedy (D-Yankton) said the issue can win support in the South Dakota Legislature if it’s presented as a statewide problem. He noted the issue affects not only river cities but also the entire state’s economy and natural resources.
"This is not an insurmountable problem, but it does require attention," he said. "Right now, we need funding so we can draw up a solution."
Despite the many challenges, Hotchkiss offered encouragement to Friday’s audience.
"Keep the faith, and keep moving ahead," he said.
Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.