Initiative sponsors seek to preserve, enhance Spearfish Creek corridor

August 4, 2018

DEADWOOD — Concerned about residents and others “loving the creek to death,” organizers of a Spearfish Creek Corridor Initiative introduced themselves and their cause to the Lawrence County Commission July 24.

Landowner Eric Jennings and retired senior fisheries biologist Ron Koth, who now works for Barr Engineering, formed the initiative with the vision of preserving and enhancing the natural and economic benefits of Spearfish Creek through the city of Spearfish to the confluence of the Redwater River.

“I’m hopeful in the next nine months or so, there might be a larger group of folks come together with representatives … and we can talk about how we could put something together, not regulatory, but a plan for the future, so we don’t love the creek to death and then wonder what happened to it 25 years from now when the population that is there really, more than likely, grows,” Koth said.

Project rationale includes the following points: Spearfish Creek is an extremely valuable resource to the region and state; much of the existing hydraulic infrastructure is in disrepair; continued population growth is driving change in historic land uses in and near the floodplain; Spearfish Creek has been actively modified and managed over time and continues to require active management.

“To voluntarily look at how the creek is managed currently, starting at the Maurice intake, where the city takes in hydroelectric plant water, on down through where the creek gets into Redwater,” Jennings said. “I think we can all agree that the importance of Spearfish Creek to this area … there are people who look to it for its aesthetic value, certainly agriculturally, with irrigation rights coming out of the creek, the wildlife, both for fisheries, game animals, our feathered friends, Belle Fourche takes water out of there for municipal water, recreational, housing interests, but all of these depend on a healthy riparian area. A healthy riparian area, if it is properly functioning, will provide all of these uses, along with some mitigation for flooding concerns. So that’s where the aspect of the creek that hasn’t been addressed, quite possibly, since the white man got here. We’ve just been doing what we need to do to the creek to serve our purpose without any thoughts of how that’s affecting the whole infrastructure and hydraulic aspects of the creek.”

Koth addressed the technical aspects of what occurs in the creek and indicated they either have contacted or plan to contact other potential partners to join them in the initiative, including: Lawrence County Conservation District, cities of Spearfish and Belle Fourche, South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, South Dakota Department of Transportation, irrigation companies, and others.

Stream and corridor issues include: continued urbanization, particularly north of Interstate 90; aging irrigation diversions and infrastructure; repetitive occurrences of anchor ice formation and near bank flooding; a generally over-widened channel cross section in many sub-reaches; lack of appropriate bed load and sediment transport; active bank erosion in many locations; reduced stream length due to past flood control work and the existing flood channel; need for preservation of good water quality for Belle Fourche water gallery; floodplain encroachment and flood routing issues.

“The conversation started two years ago. The DOT was involved, Game, Fish, and Parks was involved in really trying to put an umbrella over some planning, future visions for Spearfish Creek,” Koth explained. “From the south side of Spearfish, where the hydro release is, all the way to the Redwater and some of the land owners north of the interstate 90 have really been concerned with this increase in urbanization. Every now and then they know the creek kind of rises up and people’s awareness raises as we have a flood event that goes through town.”

Koth said agencies have intrinsic interests along the stream and that infrastructure along the stream, for example, 100-year-old embedded irrigation infrastructure has an impact on how flood flows operate.

“You can drive by and you can watch where Della Vecchias’ alfalfa fields are slowly getting turned into, whether they’re schools or apartments, or new developments, there’s just a lot of things going on along the creek, and so as a retired fisheries biologist from Game & Fish and still working in that field, some of those landowners north of the interstate really wanted to try and start a conversation to see if we could do something to preserve what we have and improve some of the facilities that have been relied on for a long time and to kind of come together as a lot of interested government agencies or non-government agencies to move forward,” Koth said.

Brookview Road, just upstream of the confluence of Pheasant Lane and the bridge in the vicinity, was cited as an example of issues Spearfish Creek is facing.

“You’ll observe as you go through there, there’s an ongoing and very active erosion area that’s being driven by what’s happening upstream,” Koth said. “What was supposed to be a DOT flood channel kind of operates as the actual channel sometimes and so the real channel doesn’t get function very often, so it’s shortened the path of the stream and what that means is there’s just a lot more power going down the stream, so we’re actually eroding banks all the way through Eric’s.”

“I think a lot of this is just going to be an education for everybody to understand what a properly functioning riparian area is along the Spearfish Creek Corridor and the things that happen upstream are going to affect everybody downstream,” Jennings said. “And so everything that happens above there affects me, so I certainly want as good a functioning creek above me as we possibly can because that mitigates my issues,”

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