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1972 Environmental Impact Statement

James River (timeline image)

The Bureau of Reclamation struggled to write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Oahe irrigation project, a project they desperately wanted to build. This would be the very first EIS written by agency officials in its Huron, South Dakota office, so the agency was unsure about how to proceed.  The agency also understood that by detailing the environmental changes their project would cause, opposition to the project would be better equipped to question and attack the project.  Information about the fate of the James River, the suitability of soils for irrigation, the project’s cost-benefit ratio and other issues and conditions discussed in the EIS did indeed attract public concern. Those questioning the project used the draft and final EIS documents as useful and potent references.

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The Environmental Impact Statement was first issued in a "draft" format, and was subjected to a public comment period and public hearings.  At a November 29, 1972 public hearing in Aberdeen, testimony was split on the project.  National environmental groups, South Dakota environmentalists and some farmers testified against the project. Concerns were also issued by state and federal government agencies with responsibilities over pollution, natural resources and outdoor recreation. The amount of opposition and their articulated concerns surprised project supporters who were unaccustomed to opposition.  The fate of the James River quickly became one of the critical issues in the discussion about the Oahe project's impacts to the environment.