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Historical DATA

The Full Story

French Creek Effluent Defense: Historical Data and Resulting Important Questions and Suggestions

  • Reviewed data on the history of Custer Sewage Treatment may be important evidence in our defense against Custer’s current effort to discharge treated sewage effluent into French Creek. Scanned copies of key pages of the two books and Rapid City Journal newspaper articles mentioned below are attached, as is a photograph of the current Flynn Creek Discharge area sign. The Rapid City Journal newspaper articles were accessed from newpapers.com by Linea Sundstrom.

This has led to three questions which could be important:​

  1. When the current Custer Wastewater (i. e. Sewage) Treatment Plant was built in 1986, why did they choose a route that was at least 13 miles long and uphill to Flynn Creek when they could have discharged 6.5 miles away and downhill into French Creek below Stockade Lake, as they are planning to do now? The Flynn Creek route is 2.32 times longer than the French Creek route now being built. [These are straight-line distances. The actual route of the current Flynn Creek pipeline bows around to the west making its actual length perhaps 50% longer or more than the straight-line measurement].

  2. In 1986, why was Flynn Creek chosen as the site for the Custer sewage effluent disposal? Was the 1986 choice of Flynn Creek due to a lawsuit of the State Park against the City of Custer - to block, the then ongoing pollution of Stockade Lake, possibly providing a precedent? Was it due to a threat of legal action or an agreement to avoid legal action; records of which might be obtained from minutes of the Custer City Council or Custer State Park, under the Open Records Acts? Was there ever any kind of “Cease and Desist” order issued by a court, or the SD State or Federal EPA or other government body? Or was the choice due to the offer of Federal funds under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to assist municipalities in constructing sewage treatment plants that were compliant with the new CWA standards? And was the choice of the Flynn Creek discharge due to Federal EPA standards and supervision, again providing a precedent? If so, EPA records may provide evidence. [In a very cursory search online I did not immediately locate any Federal EPA documents relating to Custer or Stockade Lake other than the 1976 Study mentioned below]. Or, perhaps after witnessing (the then very visible and undeniable environmental damage from discharging effluent into French Creek above Stockade Lake - as described herein), Flynn Creek was clearly the least problematic alternative, as it remains today.

  3. As the following data will show, even if the Custer City Council members were not living in the area in the 1970-1986 period, the Custer Wastewater Treatment Plant officials, at the least, must certainly have known of the devastating environmental effect the wastewater disposal into French Creek above Stockade Lake between 1970 and 1986 (eighteen years) had on Stockade Lake. They should have known of the very lengthy and costly dredging and sediment removal to clean up the lake, and why the Flynn Creek discharge site (rather than French Creek) was chosen when the current plant opened in 1986...and this information should have been contained and considered in any studies the city or the plant commissioned for the current rerouting project to French Creek.

  4. If the City is now discharging into Flynn Creek, and they are claiming they have a renewal of a 1970 grandfathered discharge permit or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or Environmental (Impact) Assessment (EA or EIA) to discharge into Flynn Creek, does that pertain in any way at all to French Creek? Furthermore, since the discharge was moved to Flynn Creek in 1986 and this was prior to major amendments to the Clean Water act in 1987, 2014, and in 2018 (see below), would moving the discharge site to Lower French Creek violate these later amendments?

  5. What evidence, if any, has the City provided that the planned “upgrading” of the sewage treatment plant will treat to any cleaner/safer standard than the current effluent, or that whatever standard it treats to - or plans to treat to - will be safe, and will not recreate similar environmental damage in the Lower French Creek drainage, as that herein described when previously discharging into French Creek above Stockade Lake?

  6. Did the City illegally execute contracts for any of the three phases of the Wastewater plant upgrade and effluent discharge rerouting before obtaining all legal permits, citizen notifications, and any other necessary approvals?

  7. It is my understanding of the law, perhaps incorrect for South Dakota, that a major project like this requires, not only generic notification (e. g. newspaper notices) to those potentially affected, but also specific notification (i. e. letter notification) to those potentially affected. As an owner of two properties on French Creek on the Lower French Creek Road, and one cabin in the Hazelrodt Cabin Group of the Black Hills National Forest (on French Creek), I can say, absolutely, that I have never received notification of an action of any kind regarding any of these three properties. Addresses to all affected property owners are available from the Custer County Tax Assessors Office, so there is no excuse for this.

  8. If the Protect French Creek legal efforts are unable to get the city effluent discharge rerouted to Flynn Creek, a secondary goal could be to force the city to treat the effluent to a potable standard in its plant upgrade which is not yet completed.

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Historical Data:

  1. Rapid City Journal, 3/18/1970: At the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission regular March 1970 meeting in Pierre, the Commission authorized a deep well at Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park. Park Superintendent Virgil Johnson reported increasing trouble with the French Creek water supply relating to heavy algal growth in Stockade Lake due to high nutrient levels in effluent from the Custer sewage treatment facility. Johnson urged the commission to consider a comprehensive, long-range plan for the park as important for the park’s orderly development and in association with similar planning being developed for all of Custer County. Note: This suggests that in 1970 the Custer sewage treatment into French Creek above Stockage Lake was affecting the ground-water supply as far away as Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park!!!!

  2. Rapid City Journal, 8/5/1971 : The RCJ reported on a three-year study, costing $220,000, called the Black Hills Conservatory Subdistrict’s “Comprehensive Water Quality Management Plan for the Black Hills Region,” directed by Floyd Matthews’ Dakota Engineering firm. The project was 50% cost shared through the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. From: U. S. Environmental Protection Agency National Eutrophication Survey, Working Paper Series, Report on Stockage Lake, Custer County, South Dakota EPA Region VIII, Working Paper No. 625: Corvallis Environmental Research Laboratory – Corvallis, Oregon and Environmental Monitoring & Support Laboratory – Las Vegas, Nevada, with the cooperation of the South Dakota Department of Environmental Protection and the South Dakota National Guard, December 1976, 42 p. This is available online: google “EPA and Custer, SD.” Conclusions, as of 1976, p. 1:Survey data indicate that Stockade Lake is eutrophic. It [only] ranked twenty-third out of the 31 South Dakota lakes sampled in overall trophic quality. Marked depression or depletion of dissolved oxygen with depth occurred in July and September at both sampling locations. Survey limnologists observed algal blooms in progress in July and September. Nitrogen was the rate-limiting nutrient at all sampling times (p. 7). Known point sources contribute 35.7% of the total phosphorus load to Stockade Lake, of which the City of Custer contributed 29.6%, and Sylvan Lake contributed 6.1%. The total phosphorus loading was at that time 2.3 times the defining value considered eutrophic for phosphorus loading.

  4. As of the publication of the following book, Natural History of the Black Hills in 1978, Stockade Lake was polluted both for trout management and general recreation due to effluent from the Custer City sewage treatment plant, as described next. This was the first time at which the Custer sewage plant was polluting the French Creek drainage (above Stockade Lake): From Natural History of the Black Hills, by Sven G. Froiland, Professor of Biology and Director, Center for Western Studies, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Director, Black Hills Natural Sciences Field Station (1970-1978), published by The Center for Western Studies, an Historical Research and Archival Agency of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 174 p. p. 32-33, as of 1978: “Stockade Lake on French Creek, the fourth and smallest of the larger lakes [in the Black Hills], covers an area of 128 surface acres. It has a low water quality rating, being polluted for both trout management and general recreation. During periods of severe drought the only water entering is effluent from the Custer City sewage treatment plant. During periods of high precipitation dilution and distribution of the effluent are improved by increased flushing of the lake. The combination of excess plant development in and around the water, siltation and wastes results in a typical dense algal bloom throughout the summer. In the spring and fall conditions are suitable for trout, but stagnation of water both in summer and winter, limiting the oxygen and confining trout to very narrow layers, has meant that the lake is marginal at best.”

  5. Rapid City Journal, 1/2/1891 : Custer citizens try to save Stockade Lake. Up to a few years ago, Joe Marsh and other Custer residents and tourists were able to swim, boat, and fish in Stockade Lake. Now [1981] Stockade stinks during the summer. Few serious boaters launch their crafts there and anglers say the fish from the green water aren’t worth catching. Only a fool would drink the water. By July 1981, Marsh and other Custer area citizens and officials hope to have completed a plan to save the lake from the ravages of erosion at homebuilding sites, and street runoff to leaky septic tanks and Custer’s municipal sewage. The plan will be submitted to the state Department of Water and Natural Resources, completing the first phase of a community project that will restore the lake to its original quality. Arvo Kujala served as the Stockade Lake project coordinator. They identified the Stockade Lake pollutants in two categories: nutrients or the chemicals that promote the growth of aquatic weeds and algae, and sediments, which was down from the watershed to fill in the lake. French Creek and its tributaries drain some 78 square miles in the Custer area. Officials say most of the nutrients in the lake, primarily phosphates and nitrates, are a result of the effluent, or liquid waste discharge, from Custer’s municipal wastewater treatment plant, individual septic tanks at home in the growing developments around Custer and the wastes from livestock. Late last summer and during dry periods the effluent from the city’s wastewater treatment plant, was the only flow in French Creek between Custer and Stockade Lake. Because of leaks in the city’s sewage collection system, up to 40% extra liquid seeps into the pipes and over-taxes the wastewater plant. The city has applied for an Environmental Protection Agency grant to correct the problem. The city has also applied for a Housing and Urban Development grant to install sewer lines in southwest and southeast Custer to replace some septic tanks believed to be polluting French Creek. The Sixth District Council of Local Governments picked Stockade as the top leak restoration priority in the Black Hills. Funds for restoration are available through the Clean Lakes Program, under the Federal Pollution Control Act of 1972. From the program funding, administered through the state Department of Water and Natural Resources, $30,000 of the costs of the study and plan to be furnished in July have been paid by the federal government. Kujala is exploring other sources for correcting the pollution problem.

  6. Rapid City Journal, 5/3/1981 : Stockade Lake can be saved, if … Custer – Stockade Lake, its bottom coated in smelly, black jelly, may be saved if it’s drained, refreshed and protected from pollution, two study panels conclude. Strong medicine—some of it costly and unpopular—is needed to restore the dying lake to health, say technical and citizens advisory committees formed a year ago by the Custer County Soil Conservation District to find ways to restore the lake east of Custer. Arvo Kujala, technical coordinator, and citizens advisory committeemen Art Richardson and Steve Baldwin say that in the 45 years since the dam was built, pollution problems have built up to where fish periodically die for lack of oxygen, any swimmer foolhardy enough to plunge into the water comes out coated in slimy green algae, and, on a hot summer day, the air is foul with the stench of decay. The committee’s tentative recommendations to cure those problems are aimed at two major sources of pollution—sewage-generated nitrogen and phosphorus that over-fertilizes the lake to produce oxygen depletion [eutrophication], and soil erosion that aggravates the whole process. Broken sewer lines, particularly those crossing French Creek are allowing ground water and storm water to infiltrate sewer lines and overwhelm the sewer plant’s design capacity. Kujala said sewer plant effluent sometimes exceeds French Creek’s natural flow and most of the time it exceeds 10% of the streamflow. Only if effluent falls below 10% of French Creek’s volume does the stream meet federal water quality standards, Baldwin says. Although the plant was rebuilt in 1973-74 with three “polishing ponds,” the report calls for a “rapid infiltration system” or renovation and upgrading of the plant as possible alternatives to clean up the effluent. Perhaps the most dramatic recommendation is to drain the lake and remove the accumulated sediment. After a May 11 public hearing for input the recommendations will go to various agencies with a role in a Stockade Lake watershed improvement project, including the Soil Conservation Service and Agricultural Stabilization & Conservation Service assisting private landowners, the U.S. Forest Service, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department administering Custer State Park. Also, the Department of Water & Natural Resources and the 6th District Council of Local Governments. Note: This article contains pictures of the smelly sediment which smothered Stockade Lake’s floor and the sewer plant effluent over-whelming low-flowing French Creek at Stockade, which are comparable to the present discharge at Flynn Creek.

  7. Rapid City Journal, 5/12/1981 : Stockade cleanup simple, cost the problem—Custer's Art Richardson, chairman of a Stockade Lake citizen’s advisory committee, and Arvo Kujala, the project’s coordinator for the Custer County Soil Conservation District outlined tentative recommendations for the Stockade Lake cleanup at a Monday public review. The issues boiled down to two – remove sediment that coats the lake bottom in greasy black jelly up to seven feet thick, and filter nitrogen and phosphorus out of Custer wastewater treatment plant effluent. Tim Bjork, with the [SD] Department of Water & Natural Resources at Pierre, told about 30 Custer residents at the public review session that the city’s sewage treatment plant is the place to start cleaning up the watershed. “Unless something is done with the wastewater treatment plant, all other treatments won’t do much good, or any good,” Bjork said. Bjork said much of the sedimentation probably comes from the algae, stimulated by sewer plant nutrients, settling to the bottom and decomposing. Kujala mentioned that the lake holds enough sediment now to cover a 20 acre field six feet deep. However, the Regan administration had at that time issued stop orders on federal construction grant money for such work, making cost the problem. A major part of the sewer problem was the heavy infiltration of groundwater into the mains, which overloaded the treatment plant and flushed nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients into French Creek above the lake. Ironically, the lake’s problem became serious after Custer installed a modern sewage treatment facility. Bjork explained that raw sewage escaping the old system tied up much of the nitrogen and phosphorus. Eliminating the raw sewage left nitrogen and phosphorus free to flow into the lake.

  8. Rapid City Journal, 7/6/86 : Lake-dredging could help trout—Custer – Stockade Lake near Custer and Canyon Lake in Rapid City may be dredged to make them better for trout to live in and people to look at. The South Dakota Department of Water and Natural Resources has been doing studies on Stockade. A state-owned dredge could be put to work sucking mud off the bottom of the lake as early as next year. Silt up to seven feet deep has washed into Stockade over the years. So did sewage from Custer before a better sewage treatment plant was put in. Phosphorus and nitrogen from the sewage has made the water so fertile that there have been algal blooms and when swimmers come out of the water they can have a green scum on them. “It [Stockade Lake] has some nice campgrounds. It just hasn’t been used much becausethe quality of the water has been poor,” said Tim Bjork, who is in charge of lake restoration for the Department of Water and Natural Resources. Bjork estimated it would take an entire dredging season from April through November to do Stockade – if the dredge was used 18 to 24 hours a day. The dredge digs and sucks mud off the bottom, which is then pumped through pipes to the shore where it goes into ponds where the silt can settle out. The plan is to remove about 200,000 cubic yards, enough to cover a football field 112 feet deep. The state is looking into putting the silt on some state land and private land near Stockade. The dredging job will cost about $1 a cubic yard or $200,000, for Stockade Lake, said Bjork. The normal procedure is for the state to pay half, and another group such as a city or state Game, Fish & Parks Department to pay the other half. Who will pay how much for the Stockade dredging is still being negotiated. The state has three dredges, currently [1986] in use, and is buying another.

  9. The current Custer Wastewater Treatment Plant is located 1 mile east of the City and was built in 1986. (From the Custer Public Works Department website).

  10. The following information regarding Stockade Lake is from the book Pioneers and Custer State Park, by Jessie Y. Sundstrom, 1994, published by the author, printed at Intermountain Color, Boulder, Colorado, 244 p. p. 57: Stockade Lake was originally a placer claim from and after the Custer Expedition and Gordon Party in 1874 until Custer State Park acquired ownership. p. 60: The Park surveyed the Doran (settler) land for the site of Stockade Lake in 1924 and negotiated for its purchase in 1925, but the sale did not go through until 1933. Stockade Lake was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933. p.154: In 1935 [p. 60 said in 1933] Stockade Lake was built by the CCC from Camp Doran and originally called Lake Doran, p. 164: In 1938 a new spillway was constructed at Stockade Lake. p. 193: In 1984 the State Legislature passed a $550,000 appropriation for Park Improvements. One was the unfinished reconstruction of Stockade Lake spillway. In 1988 a 5.7 acre piece of land between Stockade Lake and Highway 16 was purchased from Black Hills Resorts, to keep commercial development from encroaching near Stockade and the Park entrance. A substantial investment had been made to dredge Stockade Lake to remove algae and rough fish, and the purchase would keep the area attractive to fishermen. In June 1988 the 379th Engineering Battalion of the National Guard from North Dakota reconstructed the bridge across the spillway at Stockade Lake. Other National Guard Units assisted. The bridge had originally been built by the CCC in 1936. [p. 164 said in 1938.]

  11. The initial Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in 1972, effective October 18, 1972. Major amendments were made in 1977, 1987, 2014, and in 2018 (Wikipedia, “Clean Water Act”).

    Analysis of History implications for French French Creek Effluent Defense;

    From the above information the following timeline can be constructed. From 1970 to 1986, the City of Custer was pumping the effluent from its Sewage Treatment Plant into French Creek above Stockade Lake, and the 1976 EPA study concluded the lake was 2.3 times the definition of eutrophic due to phosphorus loading, of which about 30% was identified as coming from the City of Custer sewage treatment effluent, causing algal blooms in July and September.

    Other studies identified that the problem was due to the sewage treatment process which freed nitrogen and phosphorus to overfertilize algae and aquatic plants resulting dense blooms, the decomposition of which created eutrophic conditions and stinking bottom slime and siltation.

    This was the first time that the City of Custer sewage treatment effluent was severely polluting the French Creek watershed. It appears that as early 1970 the Custer sewage treatment into French Creek above Stockage Lake was affecting the ground-water supply as far away as Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park! In 1981 the Sixth District Council of Local Governments picked Stockade as the top leak restoration priority in the Black Hills.

    As of the publication in 1978 of Natural History of the Black Hills, Stockade Lake had a low water quality rating, being polluted for both trout management and general recreation. During periods of severe drought, the only water entering was effluent from the Custer City sewage treatment plant. A typical dense algal bloom occurred throughout the summer, making the lake of marginal quality at best.

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  • In 1984, the State Legislature appropriated money for Park Improvements; including the unfinished reconstruction of the Stockade Lake spillway. In 1988, Park records noted that a substantial investment had been made to dredge Stockade Lake to remove algae and rough fish.

  • In June 1988, the National Guard reconstructed the bridge across the Stockade Lake

    spillway.

  • As of July 6th 1986, dredging was being planned to cleanup Stockade Lake at an estimated cost of $200,000. Currently, this would be much more expensive. The current Custer Wastewater Treatment Plant is located 1 mile east of the City and was built in 1986, so this was probably when the new Wastewater Plant began pumping effluent up to Flynn Creek instead of into French Creek above Stockade Lake. 

  • Custer State Park records noted, in 1988, that a substantial investment had been made to rehabilitate Stockade Lake by dredging it to remove algae and rough fish, and to reconstruct the bridge across the Stockade Lake spillway. As noted above, there would have been no point in doing this unless the source of the pollution from the Custer sewage treatment effluent had been removed.

  • Given this information, the city certainly cannot claim ignorance of the problems of sewage treatment effluent into French Creek drainage. Even if the Custer City Council members were not living in the area in the 1970-1986 period, the Custer Wastewater Treatment Plant officials, at least, must certainly know of the devastating environmental effect the wastewater disposal into French Creek above Stockade Lake between 1970 and 1986 (eighteen years) had on Stockade Lake, of the very lengthy & costly dredging and sediment removal to clean up the lake, and why the Flynn Creek discharge site (rather than French Creek) was chosen when the current plant opened in 1986. This information should have been contained and considered in any studies the city or the plant commissioned for the current rerouting project to French Creek. Unlike the present relocation of the sewage effluent site, the eventual cleanup of Stockade Lake in 1986 involved several long-term studies and actively embraced public input. In 1971, a three-year study was undertaken - costing $220,000 and called the Black Hills Conservatory Subdistrict’s “Comprehensive Water Quality Management Plan for the Black Hills Region,” directed by Floyd Matthews’ Dakota Engineering firm. By 1981, two committees, a Stockade Lake technical committee and a citizen’s advisory committee, both formed a year earlier in 1980, found ways to restore the lake east of Custer and presented their recommendations. These two committees were chaired by Arvo Kujala (the technical coordinator for the Custer County Soil Conservation District) and citizens advisory committeemen Art Richardson and Steve Baldwin. Kujala said sewer plant effluent sometimes exceeds French Creek’s natural flow and most of the time it exceeds 10% of the streamflow. "Only if effluent falls below 10% of French Creek’s volume does the stream meet federal water quality standards", Baldwin said. The South Dakota Department of Water and Natural Resources had been doing studies on Stockade Lake in 1986, in preparation for dredging.

  • The initial Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in 1972, effective October 18, 1972. Major amendments were made in 1977, 1987, 2014, and in 2018. So this timeline leads back to the questions at the beginning of this writeup. What induced Custer to move its effluent discharge from Flynn Creek above Stockade Lake to Flynn Creek in 1986? Did the State Park sue or threaten to sue the City? Did the Federal Clean Water act offer funds to build a new Sewer plant and pipeline? Did the State or Federal EPA mandate the Flynn Creek effluent disposal site?

  • The move to Flynn Creek probably occurred in 1986. What is the connection between this 1986 disposal site move and the original Clean Water Act of 1972 or its first amendment in 1987? What was the Federal or State EPA’s involvement if any? Or, perhaps, Flynn Creek was just clearly the right solution? Perhaps, after witnessing the then - very visible and undeniable - environmental damage from discharging effluent into French Creek above Stockade Lake, Flynn Creek was clearly the least problematic alternative, as it remains today.

*** British statesman Winston Churchill said: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

In the present case, the Custer City Council should have learned to discharge the city sewage treatment effluent in a less conspicuous location, rather than upstream of Stockade Lake. However, now any resulting damage will fall on the Custer County residents, property owners on Lower French Creek, Custer State Park visitors, cabin owners, and perhaps others even further downstream...as well as the defenseless aquatic animals of the area and the innocent & unknowing wildlife that drink from the Creek.

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