Petition aims to block public access to SD creek

A Mitchell, S.D., man has petitioned the South Dakota Water Management Board to delete the Firesteel Creek from the state's list of navigable streams.


A Mitchell, S.D., man has petitioned the South Dakota Water Management Board to delete the Firesteel Creek from the state's list of navigable streams.

Gary Bussmus, who lives along the Firesteel Creek, is fed up with the public leaving his creek access gates open and allowing cattle to escape from neighboring property. In July, he filed a petition to remove the Firesteel from the list of navigable rivers in the hope that he can install permanent fencing without gate access. According to state law, a navigable river or stream is one that can support a vessel capable of carrying one or more persons between May 1 and Sept. 30 in two out of every 10 years. But state law also requires landowners along these streams to offer gates for public recreational access.

The state's Water Management Board will hear Bussmus' case at their regular meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Pierre Chamber of Commerce.

In his letter to the Water Management Board, Bussmus said he's at his wits' end with the law requiring gates on creek crossings. According to Bussmus, the Firesteel in Davison County is not navigable and should not require gate access.

Bussmus also said kayakers using the Firesteel for recreation are leaving gates open, which once resulted in cattle leaving a landowner's property and getting struck by vehicles. Bussmus said this leaves the landowners along the Firesteel liable for any damage caused by those using his land.


In response, Department of Game, Fish and Parks Senior Biologist Leslie Murphy sent a letter refuting Bussmus' claims that the stream is not navigable. Murphy said Bussmus' statement that kayakers are using his land is contradictory to his claims that they stream is not navigable.

"Although we don't condone the misuse of the gates by the users, this actually supports the fact that these water are navigable and are being used by recreational boaters," Murphy said.

Murphy also said the removal of the Firesteel as a navigable stream would have negative impacts on the constituent of South Dakota who use the creek for kayaking, canoeing, bow-fishing and trapping.

Murphy also sent photos to the Water Management Board displaying a healthy Firesteel Creek that appears easily passable by boaters. This severely contrasts Bussmus' photos of what appears to be a desiccated plot of land where water trickles over a few rocks but could never be used by recreational boaters.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources reconnaissance investigation is more likely to side with Bussmus. Two separate investigations from the DENR show that there has been low water flow on the Firesteel near Mount Vernon. On Sept. 1, the creek was measured at 4.5 gallons flowing per minute. But on Sept. 21, the creek flow was measured at zero gallons per minute.

Although the water flow was measured at low volumes, Murphy recommended to the board that the request be denied.

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
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