LETCHER, S.D. — When Ed Blindauer noticed an abnormally high amount of standing water in his Letcher crop field over the past few weeks, he knew something was awry.
The high level of water in his field a few weeks ago prompted the farmer to survey his land, located roughly 2.5 miles northeast of Letcher. In the process, he discovered a ditch plug — which is a small dam — built in the adjacent field.
“Last year, we thought the water in our field was kind of high, but we never looked into why that was,” Blindauer said. “But this year, the water was a foot higher, so we went to survey the land and saw a ditch plug in the field directly next to ours.”
Upon further investigation, Blindauer learned that the ditch plug was built by Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wetlands for waterfowl and wildlife.
“I was never provided any information that they were going to build a dam on the land next to mine,” Blindauer said of Ducks Unlimited.
After Blindauer called the governor’s office roughly two weeks ago, he began communicating with Ducks Unlimited to work on an agreement. When Johann Walker, Ducks Unlimited director of conservation programs for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, received a formal complaint from the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources over a week ago, he had already reached an agreement with Blindauer to deconstruct the dam that’s been the root of his concern.
“Ever since they got this done, it’s really helped, because the water is about a foot lower than what it was,” Blindauer said of Ducks Unlimited response to the dam.
But Walker said it’s an open debate as to whether the dam was responsible for raising water on Blindauer’s land. Rather, he pointed to Mother Nature.
“The extraordinary weather that area has had, with all of the heavy rainfall and snow this year, it’s hard to believe that ditch plug would be the cause of Mr. Blindauer’s water drainage issues,” Walker said. “When we sent our biologists down there to assess the issue, they said it was not likely we were putting any water on his land.”
Because of the dam’s location, Blindauer alleges the plug is responsible for slowing the natural drainage path for the water his field accrues.
According to Walker, Ducks Unlimited purchased the piece of land in Letcher roughly two years ago to restore a wetland basin on the property to help graze wildlife, chiefly waterfowl. The dam was constructed roughly a year ago, he said.
Walker said Blindauer shares part of a wetland basin with the Ducks Unlimited land, which he claims was not altered in any way.
“It just backed up water drainage for a whole group of people with land near me and the dam, and it’s affecting all of us,” Blindauer said. “It’s holding up the whole show.”
In response to Blindauer’s concerns, Ducks Unlimited sent a contractor to the dam before the April 10 blizzard. Walker said the dam was then deconstructed, which put the drainage ditch back to its original state before the land purchase, hoping to alleviate Blindauer’s concerns of the water backup on his adjacent field.
“These kind of situations where you have shared water basins and waterways can get a little sticky, but we always believe in working with our neighbors,” Walker said. “The land is now at the place where it originally was, and we want to be good neighbors.”
While Blindauer is pleased with the results after Ducks Unlimited deconstructed the original dam, he is left to try and make up for lost profits on his crop field that currently sits in a large pool of water.
“I understand people make mistakes, but I will have to pay for the damages to our land that I didn’t cause,” Blindauer said. “It’s hard to make money as a farmer these days, and this just made it harder and took some profit away.”