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If recent weather trends persist, Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area will continue to see sustained flooding into late spring for the foreseeable future.

That is bad news for the chronically stressed timber on the WMA, but it also means that duck hunter camps and other property adjacent to the area will remain vulnerable to flooding.

Mark Hooks, regional supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and Jennifer Sheehan, the AGFC's federal programs coordinator, briefed the commission about ongoing water control issues at the popular duck hunting area near Stuttgart and DeWitt.

Historically, Hooks said, the Bayou Meto watershed is subject to a least one large rain event that bumps up water levels on the WMA late in the winter. However, an unusually large rain event in early 2018 dumped 17-18 inches into the watershed. High water in the Mississippi River prevented the Arkansas River from draining, and high water in the Arkansas River prevented water from draining from Bayou Meto WMA, which finally drained within the last two weeks.

"I've been here 28 years, and this was worst situation ever seen," Hooks said. "I've never seen Salt Bayou go to 187.5 [feet], 8.5 feet above flood pool. Depending on which rain gauge you look at, we got 14-17 inches in February in the immediate watershed, and then that system dumped the same load of rain near Jacksonville. All that water hit me fast.

"Imagine a perfect storm event for a flood on Bayou Meto. It occurred primarily because we had 17 inches of rain in February, which is not normal."

The Game and Fish Commission has struggled with draining Bayou Meto WMA in a timely manner for decades. Flooding the area is easy, but getting water off the area in late winter is a challenge. It's worse lately, Hooks said, because of a succession of wet springs. High, static water in the spring damages hardwood timber.

This problem was supposed to have been resolved years ago through provisions of the Bayou Meto Irrigation District. A pump station was built that can pump 1,000 cubic feet of water per second off the area. Hooks said the pump station would be a big help, except that it is not operational.

Even if it were, water can't reach the pump because of a 9.5-mile long bottleneck that impounds water behind it. About 3.5 miles of the bottleneck are on Game and Fish Commission property. The remaining 6 miles are on private property, involving 16 different landowners. The entire bottleneck must be cleared, dredged and widened to facilitate water flow back toward the Arkansas River, Hooks said.

"From Cannon Brake to the flood gates you can see tons of obstructions that create issues with gravity flow," Hooks said. "At 178 [feet], water ceases to flow through Little Bayou Meto, and everything goes through Big Bayou Meto. Cleaning that out by itself is not a fix. All of that depends whats happening in the Arkansas River. That ditch can be dredged as wide as this room, but if it will not carry water, that's where the pump station comes in. Dredging gives you gravity flow that you don't have, and the pump station allows you to move water when the pool level does not move water."

Specifically, Hooks said a ditch needs to be dredged to a basal width of 30 feet and a certain gradient.

"Thirty million yards of dirt has to come out of a 9-mile stretch, and all that dirt has to go somewhere," Hooks said. "We'll have to clear 20 acres of land to put soil deposits on."

If money were not an issue, it would take about five years to complete all the work, Sheehan said, but money is a big issue. Sheehan said it will take about $358 million to complete the work. Congress allocated $12 million to the project in 2017, but President Trump's 2018 fiscal year budget allocated zero dollars.

It's a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission is the non-federal partner.

"The ANRC is asking that the Corps request no funding," Sheehan said.

Steve Cook of Malvern, the Game and Fish Commission chairman, said he is frustrated that the AGFC has spent about $2 million on the project and will be asked to contribute more in the future without yet seeing a benefit.

Cook and Commissioner Bobby Martin of Bentonville recommended that AGFC Director Patt Fitts and his staff work to generate support with Arkansas's congressional delegation to secure funding to complete the project.

Sports on 05/17/2018

Print Headline: Bottlenecks hold water on WMA


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