The use of land around the lake providing nearly 400,000 Arkansans with drinking water is the topic of recommendations the Lake Maumelle Watershed Task Force is submitting to Pulaski County Quorum Court this week. The Court will then decide on including the recommendations in a zoning ordinance for the watershed. The 31-member task force, comprised of people representing various interests, has been meeting regularly for nearly a year to come up with the recommendations.
Kristin Higgins, Program Associate for the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service has been helping to facilitate meetings with the task force. She says the group has been navigating the varied interests of its members.
“You know we have some people who live in the watershed area and were concerned about property rights. And then we have some people who don’t live in the watershed area but are drinking water customers and so they’re concerned about the quality of water,” Higgins said.
She said the group has been assessing a proposed ordinance dealing with the Watershed that the Quorum Court will likely implement in April, asking the questions, “does this make water quality better or does this affect water quality?”
Task force member Debbie Moreland of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts says dealing with the ExxonMobil Pegasus Pipeline has been one major concern. Though she says the county has little authority to move the pipeline out of the watershed.
“If you can’t move it, then ok, what could be done? So instead of arguing about it, go ahead and see what steps could be done today while you’re arguing about what can be done for tomorrow,” she said.
Moreland said she thinks that changing the landscape around the pipeline to contain any possible leaks or bursts could be a viable alternative to moving it.
Another proposed recommendation includes placing limits on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in the area. While Moreland and Higgins both noted that banning gas drilling outright could amount to an infringement on personal property rights, barring any potential drillers from storing drilling liquids on their property could become an acceptable rule.
Moreland also said she was concerned about how the county may restrict soil fertilization practices through recommendations by the task force. Both Higgins and Moreland said some members on the task force have advocated for the banning of artificial fertilizers on farmlands in the watershed. Moreland said that could potentially drive away farmers from the area, because growing crops would not be as easy. She said there are ways to apply fertilizer without jeopardizing the ecology of the land and the watershed. Higgins said recommendations still in the works for potential zoning restrictions on the application of fertilizer would only apply to new landowners and not established ones.
The task force will submit its recommendations Tuesday night to the Pulaski County Quorum Court. UPDATE: According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the task force has delayed submitting its recommendations. It's expected to submit the recommendations to the Pulaski County Quorum Court on Friday.
The Quorum Court must then decide which recommendations to incorporate into the nearly year-old watershed zoning ordinance April 23rd, when a moratorium on it ends.
You can read the ordinance on the Lake Maumelle Watershed (without any of the task force's recommended changes) here.
Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that Pulaski County did not have a zoning ordinance for the Lake Maumelle Watershed in place. It did, approved on April 23rd, 2013. When a moratorium expires on April 23rd, 2014, the ordinance will then go into effect.