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‘Ghost claims’ of dead pioneers haunt South Dakota water rights

Posted on: September 26th, 2016
by David Ganje

Author Seth Tupper Journal staff

It’s a safe bet that neither John P. Plunkett nor Edward Lynch will show up to defend their water rights when a state board considers terminating them later this year.

That’s because Plunkett and Lynch are dead — and have been for a long time.

Yet their joint rights to divert water from Rapid Creek live on, because they obtained the rights in 1896, more than a decade before the government of South Dakota began regulating the use of water.

The grandfathered status of the old Plunkett-Lynch water rights means they are still technically in force, as are 437 other sets of water rights filed prior to the adoption of state water-use laws in 1907. Many of the rights are for large amounts of water, and some are attached to famous names like Seth Bullock, the legendary lawman of the Deadwood gold-rush era who still technically owns a water right on the Redwater River in Butte County.

One modern expert refers to the pre-regulatory water rights as “ghost claims,” and their potential to haunt modern water management is highlighted by the Plunkett-Lynch case. The case could soon be the subject of an adversarial hearing involving state regulators who want to cancel the water rights and a local rancher, Richard Rausch, who wants to keep the rights attached to the land he leases…..

To read the entire article, visit the Rapid City Journal here.

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