Special Session on Recreational Access to Small Lakes

SD Special Session
The South Dakota legislature passed, and Governor Dennis Daugaard signed, emergency legislation opening recreational access to more than 20 small lakes. This temporarily resolves an issue resulting from a South Dakota Supreme Court ruling in March that prompted the state to close public access to these waters for all recreation.

South Dakota is home to numerous small lakes – also called “non-meandered waters” – that were not officially mapped as publicly owned in surveys of the Dakota Territory. The levels of many of these waterbodies have risen dramatically, and they have become popular fisheries for residents and anglers from surrounding states. Portions of, or in some cases all of, these lakes are on top of privately owned land. The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in two different cases that the water in these lakes is owned by the people of the state as a public trust. But the court also ruled that the lake beds are private property.

However, restored public access to these lakes could be temporary. The new legislation allows private landowners to petition the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to close non-meandered waters over their land. If approved for closure, the law requires landowners to clearly sign and mark the closed area. Izaak Walton League members in South Dakota and many other outdoor recreationists are concerned that the legislation gives up the public trust of these waters to private individuals and that the legislation does not have a due public appeals or petition process to challenge a closure.

The legislation contains a clause that requires the state legislature to again address this issue in the next legislative session. The League and other outdoor groups support amendments that would provide for the public’s ability to appeal or petition a closure of a non-meandered lake and to recognize recreation as a beneficial use of water. We will be advocating for those amendments in the debate next year.

For more information, visit the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website.