A long time ago in a land before white people, the Big Sioux River was clean. The water provided fertile farmland and attracted animals that would provide food, clothing, and shelter. Believe it or not, there even used to be fish that were able to live in the Big Sioux, an abstract idea for a river that we are only used to housing pollutant resistant insects. This 419 mile stretch used to be a thing of beauty, a staple to human survival, and now it’s only one thing: Ruined.
When Sioux Falls population started to boom, the city was given a choice: Would you guys like to open the first university in South Dakota, or would you like to open a meat packing plant? Based on how the city smells when the wind blows at just the wrong angle, it’s safe to assume Augie wasn’t the first university in South Dakota. Opening Smithfield, formerly known as John Morrell’s, started a series of actions detrimental to the river’s health. Smithfield regularly dumps waste into the river, and one can only imagine the type of garbage they dispose of.
I took a 10 minute trip to Smithfield and walked to the Big Sioux River across the street. I cannot stress enough how disgusting it smelled. Once you went north of 10th street, the smell kept getting more intense, but nothing compares to the smell as I kept approaching the water. The smell of hot dogs laced with vomit is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My vagus nerve was in high drive.
The smell was unappealing to say the least, but my eyes weren’t pleased with the view either. The water itself was completely brown and had the consistency of gas. There was no transparency whatsoever. I wished I had brought a set of gloves so I could feel how thick the water was, but also relieved that my hands wouldn’t be exposed to water that probably housed some sort of mutant animals. The water wasn’t the only ugly part of the view. Looking around, I wish had brought a garbage bag. There was garbage as far as the eye could see. Part of the damage I assume was done by drivers throwing out their McDonald’s bags once they were finished off of the bridge. There is also a park a few meters away from the water where animals decide to roam around to poop. Most interestingly, a lot of the litter was clothing. At first, this baffled me, but as time went on I figured out that someone was living under the bridge. Only a high quality iPhone camera and a South Dakota sunset are the only things that could make this atrocity look beautiful, no matter how hard I tried to convey it the way it is.
All five senses were used, and quite frankly abused. The sights weren’t pretty, the smells were putrid, and I can’t even imagine how nasty it would be to taste and feel. The hustle and bustle of the traffic above, and the loud factory across the street added to the scenery. It wasn’t peaceful as you hope nature would be. With every car that passed, it was a reminder how industrial Sioux Falls has become and how we’ve been ignoring our local nature.
There are horror stories about the Big Sioux. Swimming in the river or even the slightest splash in one’s mouth can cause serious sickness. I used to go frisbee golfing at Tut Hill park, and when my frisbee would splash into the river, it was time for me to buy a new one. Spending 15 dollars to get a new disc was a small price compared to the hospital bill I would get if I contracted E.Coli. It makes me uncomfortable watching people perform recreational activities in the river or letting their dogs take a soak. It feels as if bugs are crawling across my skin and I’m an extra in a horror movie about to witness something nightmare provoking.
This is huge problem culturally for the residents of South Dakota, and is small part of a sad global phenomenon. This land used to be occupied by people who cherished it. Every ounce was used, but most importantly every ounce was protected. It is an enormous slap in the face to the Native Americans who lived here before us. We took this land from them and were extremely ungrateful about it. We destroyed this land, likely to the point of no return. No one will care until this river is gone. This is our only shot at having a home, and were wasting resources. We need to change our ways.
“Only when the last tree has died, the last river poisoned, and the last fish caught, then we will realize you cannot eat money.”
Biography: Molly McIntyre is a sophomore at Augustana University studying to get her Athletic Training Masters. After her five years at Augustana, she hopes to pursue a medical degree and become an orthopedic surgeon.