Can’t take clean water for grantedby Fran Alexander | August 31, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
Over my many decades as a homeowner and having experienced life in both a big city (Houston) and an Arkansas rural county (Newton), I’ve learned a lot about necessities. In my book, water tops every list.
We depended on well water in Newton County, but it was very limited so we learned how to wash dishes using only a gallon. We’d flush sparingly sometimes using saved bath water; we siphoned rainwater from the roof gutters into our cistern-like well; and we bought our drinking water in 5-gallon bottles.
During our once a week trip into Jasper, I’d start our dirty clothes washing at the laundromat and go next door to take care of my shopping at Bob’s Grocery. Such is the efficiency of a small town. When we moved into medium-sized Fayetteville, we felt really spoiled to have drinkable and dependable water.
People rarely get excited over water until nothing is coming out of their spigot. My goal lately in writing about this most precious of liquids is to acquaint the thousands of newcomers to this region with where their water comes from, what watershed provides it, and how people impact water quality and supply.
Last time I wrote about the Illinois River Watershed Partnership that advocates for water quality on the western flanks of Rogers, Benton-ville, Springdale and Fayetteville. But those four primary cities, and the smaller secondary ones that they supply with wholesale water, all depend on the Beaver Water District. It is the largest drinking water provider in Northwest Arkansas serving over a half a million people (about one in six Arkansawyers).
The Beaver Lake-White River watershed that feeds the district’s supply stretches east past Huntsville, north as far as Gateway, south to Winslow and into Crawford County, and its west rim runs through parts of the four larger cities. (“Watershed Maps” at: www.bwdh2.orgdetail the boundaries. To see which watershed you live in, go to: https://watersheds.cast.uark.edu/find_your_watershed.html)
The history of the dam, finished in 1966, that impounded the White River to form the reservoir is documented on the website in, “Beaver Lake: NW Arkansas’ Ace In The Hole.”
That web location is also packed with video tours of the treatment facilities and educational materials, which include lesson plans, events, games, experiments and even a virtual science fair.
The district has three independent water treatment plants to furnish the area’s needs. The four primary cities’ resource demand in 1973 was about 15 million gallons per day (mgd). Data in 2019 reported the treated demand average at 55 mgd and a peak summer day may reach 90 mgd. The pumping capacity the district has at its intake at the lake is 150 mgd. How water quality becomes degraded and addressing that harm boils down to understanding that water flows downhill and picks up stuff as it travels.
District information states, “Lake water quality is still good but under stress due to rising levels of sediment and algae-feeding nutrients,” and “45% of the watershed is ranked moderate to severe in erosion hazard potential.”
We all need to comprehend that anything that stirs up dirt, like road building and building developments, can send that dirt into creeks and rivers. So, to protect water we have to also protect land and its vegetation. The old adage about “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” really rings true against the high costs of cleaning water for its next use and for our next drink.
Our beloved Buffalo River’s threatened watershed from hog manure taught us some hard geological lessons about water passing through fractured and soluble limestone karst. Anything that goes on or under the ground can go into the water.
The district’s information warns that, “78% of the watershed is very limited for conventional septic system suitability.” And, clean water advocates even emphasize that dog poop is a real problem so please, clean up after Fido and Rover!
In Houston our water adventures were in the extremes of drought and flood. In Newton County we learned that every drop was precious. In Fayetteville we’ve led a charmed life water-wise, but I’ll never take water for granted thanks to knowing what life is like without its abundance. If this region does reach 800,000 population by 2040, as has been projected, we need to respect our water supply and practice sustainability of this resource that we cannot live without.
As goes its water, so goes Northwest Arkansas.