A vote for clean water | Arkansas Blog

A vote for clean water

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Environmental activist Barry Haas notes the lack of press coverage today of the "historic" vote by which the Quorum Court approved a watershed management plan for Lake Maumelle. The no-livestock-on-the-Big-Dam-Bridge ordinance took precedence.

Barry offers a report that summarizes the long fight to protect Central Arkansas's major water supply.

Special thanks are due to local activist Kate Althoff, Pulaski Co. Justice of the Peace Pat Dicker, League of Women Voters of Pulaski County representatives Kathleen Oleson, Ruth Bell and Nell Mathews, Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods representative Kathy Wells and neighborhood leader Herb Dicker.

The Central Arkansas Water Board unanimously passed the Lake Maumelle Watershed Management Plan back in February 2007. It was a fine 'Plan', but all the protections in the Plan were yet to be implemented, both on the county and state level. First up was the Pulaski Co. Quorum Court updating their Subdivision Regulations in April 2009 which included a new Chapter 8 titled: "Additional Requirements for Land Development Located in the Watershed of a Public Water Supply", meaning Lake Maumelle. Included in Chapter 8 were sections dealing with wastewater (sewage) discharge, stormwater runoff from construction sites and the need to develop a stormwater and drainage manual that included a Site Evaluation Tool.

Then in May of this year the Arkansas Pollution Control & Ecology Commission, after a process that lasted several years, approved an amendment to their Regulation 6 that will ban the discharge of surface wastewater in the entire Lake Maumelle watershed which includes parts of not only Pulaski but also Perry and Saline counties. There are currently no such wastewater discharges in the Lake Maumelle watershed and those of us who value high quality, affordable drinking water want to keep it that way. Kudos to the PC&E Commission for their unanimous vote less than a month ago!

Last night after 14 months of hard and often contentious effort the Pulaski Co. Quorum Court unanimously approved an ordinance adopting the "Stormwater Management and Drainage Manual" which includes the "Site Evaluation Tool" or SET. Thank you, Pulaski Co. JPs! The Stormwater Manual is about 200 pages of very detailed requirements on new development that "are intended to help engineers and developers design projects to minimize water quality impacts to Lake Maumelle and meet the loading rates specified in the ordinance". The loading rates include maximum limits on Total Phosphorous, Total Suspended Solids and Total Organic Carbon, the water quality indicators in the Watershed Management Plan. The Site Evaluation Tool or SET, roughly 100 pages long, will be "used to check the overall effectiveness of combined site development design features and stormwater BMPs at meeting the allowable loading rates". BMPs are Best Management Practices (for example, 'silt fences' which reduce runoff from a construction site or 'retention ponds' to capture at least some surface runoff so it can be absorbed into the ground rather than leave the site carrying pollutants into the lake). 'Allowable loading rates' limit the maximum amount of certain measured pollutants like phosphorous and suspended solids and organic carbon that can be carried off a particular development site by runoff. Too much of any of them fouls the water.

The next step is a countywide Land Use Plan that has been ongoing since late 2009 and will hopefully be completed later this year. The Land Use Plan would allow the Pulaski Co. Quorum Court to adopt zoning in just the Pulaski Co. portion of the Lake Maumelle watershed and not the rest of the unincorporated county. Zoning in the watershed could offer further protection so any new development taking place in the Lake Maumelle watershed would not adversely affect the exceptionally high water quality roughly 400,000 central Arkansans depend on.

I know safe, affordable drinking water is not a sexy subject (well, maybe it is to some of us). Since protection of Lake Maumelle first flared up in early 2005, it has taken us 5 1/2 years to get to the point where we have some protections, though not enough, on any new development that occurs in the Lake Maumelle watershed.

When you turn your water on and clean, affordable drinking water flows out, it is due to the combined efforts of many involved citizens, Central Arkansas Water plus some county and state government employees. If you don't care about the water you drink, what do you care about?

Barry Haas
Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed

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