Water runs through a congressional race



A man who helped rewrite South Dakota's environmental history is aiming for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrat Curt Hohn, 49, of Aberdeen, learned about politics while working for Sen. George McGovern in the early 1970s. Hohn and McGovern parted ways in 1974 over a mammoth water project. With a price tag between $500 million and $1 billion, the Oahe Unit was the largest single public-works and irrigation project ever proposed for South Dakota, and McGovern was a leading advocate.

Hohn called it a boondoggle. After resigning his post under McGovern, Hohn served as executive director of United Family Farmers. The grassroots organization won a series of hard-fought elections over South Dakota's business and political establishment to take control of the Oahe Conservancy Sub-district in 1976. Hohn then became manager of the district and, with help from President Jimmy Carter, killed the Oahe Unit.

In a political settlement guided by Hohn and United Family Farmers, Oahe was traded for the WEB project, a water pipeline that now serves water to over 60 communities and 6000 farms in a Connecticut-sized area of northeastern South Dakota. Hohn now serves as WEB's manager.

His opponent in the congressional race is Republican John Thune, 37, a popular two-term incumbent who received a rating of just 6 percent from the League of Conservation Voters last year. Thune stumbled earlier this year while trying to move key legislation that would authorize a water project slated for Sioux Falls, South Dakota's largest city.

Hohn has made his expertise in water development and the Missouri River a focus of his campaign, but it remains to be seen if water issues will resonate statewide.


Copyright © HCN and Pete Carrels

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