Water Plan For Arkansas Is Nearly Complete

Jul 23, 2015

Lake Maumelle, as seen from the peak of Pinnacle Mountain in Roland, Arkansas. It provides drinking water for about 400,000 central Arkansas resident.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Since 2012, The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission has been working on drafting a plan that will be in place until 2050. Final public meetings on the final rules in the plan are taking place across the state. Next year, Arkansas should have a new water plan in place. 

Meetings have been held in Russellville and Jonesboro, with five more meetings yet to be held. One in Little Rock is set for next Wednesday.

The water plan is designed to cover existing and future water use, quantifying available water supplies to meet existing and future water use, and the development of water resource solutions and recommendations.

Edward Swaim is Acting Deputy Director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. He says the plan will cover areas like crop irrigation, public water supply, power generation, infrastructure, and more. He also says supplies meet the needs.

“We may look at what is available in reservoirs in the state, as well as rivers and streams, and groundwater,” said Swaim. “We look at trends with both demand and supply during that period out to 2050. We look at demands that we don’t think can be met and we call those ‘gaps’. Knowing which gaps are there allows us to explore which tools and processes can be used to close those gaps.”

He says the plan must also address any funding gaps that may exist.

“We have infrastructure gaps. We have close to $6 billion in public water supply needs just in the next 10 years. With wastewater needs, that is another $4 billion. There is a fiscal gap that we have to meet. Additionally, we have to finance water and sewer projects and take care of other needs.”

The state of Arkansas has been involved in water planning since the 1930s.

In 1969, the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission started handling the plan. Work on updating the 1969 plan started in 1985 by the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, under the direction of the state legislature. That plan was completed in 1990 and the plan expected to be released next year will replace the current one.

Swaim says the plan the ANCS is working on addressing current and future water use for all of the state’s water demand sectors. Those sectors include municipal, residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and energy, as well as fish and wildlife.

He says one major recommendation concerns the use of ground water for irrigation of crops.

“We know that with groundwater, we have projected a huge gap in the storage over time in the Alluvial and Sparta aquifers. This is especially true in eastern Arkansas because we are able to pump more water than can be naturally recharged. To put more surface water to use is a big recommendation. There is a lot of surface water in the state and we believe we can use a portion of that water responsibly without harming any other in-stream our out-of-stream use and make up that groundwater deficit. This allows us to continue to produce the amount of commodities that we do.”

Swaim also outlined additional recommendations that are in the water plan.

“We also recommend that we adopt all of the conservation methods that are available to us. Some of those methods can be on-farm storage of water and different irrigation techniques. Some of the techniques that can be used would help save large amounts of water and improve production in some ways due to better management of resources.”

Swaim says one recommendation concerning water pollution is already being implemented:

“With water quality, our recommendations are to work on areas, like the Cache River, for non-point source pollution reduction. This is part of a watershed management plan in that region. In the region of the Strawberry River, there is the need for looking at sediment and nutrient issues and then recommending how we can implement voluntary practices on-farm and on-land that would reduce runoff.”

Swaim says there are additional recommendations for improved maintenance practices and collecting enough revenue that will help provide a “rainy day” fund in the event of equipment breakdowns and other unforeseen circumstances.

Other recommendations that would need legislative approval include the creation of a “drought task force”, and to have a group that looks at how water use data is collected and how that process could be improved. Swaim says that once the water plan is complete, it is something that can be revised five years after completion.