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Deal struck for water allocation in Central Arkansas region

by Noel Oman | June 8, 2020 at 7:22 a.m.
FILE - Greers Ferry Dam, with Dam Site Park beyond, is shown in this July 4, 2019 file photo.

The Central Arkansas region has secured long-range water sources through 2050, thanks to an agreement recently reached with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for water storage allocation totaling 20.75 million gallons per day from Greers Ferry Lake.

The agreement is the third for water storage allocations from Greers Ferry Lake and Lake Ouachita that the Mid-Arkansas Water Alliance has struck with the Corps since formal planning began in 2002.

“ It ’s b e e n n e a rly a 20-year effort working with the Corps to access water in those two Corps lakes for long-range municipal water use in Central Arkansas,” said Jim McKenzie, the alliance board secretary.

A total of 65.7 million gallons per day has been allocated from water storage in the two lakes under the agreements, the first of which was reached 10 years ago.

The new agreement is part of an effort that began in 2002 to work with the Corps’ Little Rock and Vicksburg districts to “help identify our long-term water needs, and the most affordable and sustainable sources to meet those needs,” Bill Burrough, the Hot Springs city manager and alliance president, said in a news release.

The Little Rock District oversees Greers Ferry Lake, and the Vicksburg District oversees Lake Ouachita.

Alliance member utilities serve nearly 1 million people in Pulaski, Garland, Saline, Perry, Faulkner, Conway, Lonoke, White, Cleburne and Van Buren counties, according to the alliance.

Members of the alliance south of the Arkansas River are served by Lake Ouachita, while members north of the river are served by Greers Ferry Lake under the three agreements.

The latest agreement will benefit community water systems in Cleburne County; the cities of Beebe, Austin, Ward and Jacksonville; Conway Corp., Conway County Regional Water Distribution District; Grand Prairie/Bayou Two Public Water Authority; Mid-Arkansas Utilities Public Water Authority; Lonoke-White Public Water Authority; Furlow Public Water Authority; and Central Arkansas Water.

Each of the systems receives a prearranged amount of the total allocation reached in a separate agreement, McKenzie said.

Conway Corp. will receive the largest suballocation, of nearly 4.3 million gallons per day.

Central Arkansas Water — the largest water utility in Arkansas, with 430,000 customers — is to receive 1.2 million gallons per day.

Daily usage among its customers ranges from 30 million to 40 million gallons per day during the cold months and hits 100 million gallons or more during the summer, according to Doug Shackelford, the utility’s spokesman.

“Sprinkler usage is the biggest driver during the warm months,” he said in an email. “Our biggest day ever was around 126 MGD.”

But Central Arkansas Water is “best positioned” among the region’s water utilities to meet is future needs, according to McKenzie, a member of the agency’s board and the former longtime director of Metroplan, the long-range transportation planning agency that jump-started discussions on regional water issues, leading to the creation of the alliance.

It has two reservoirs in Lake Winona and Lake Maumelle, as well as a water storage allocation totaling 100 million gallons per day from DeGray Lake.

Central Arkansas Water and other water utilities plan for “consistent safe yields” during times of record drought. The utility also must plan for the possibility that Lake Maumelle has to be removed as a reservoir.

A 13-mile segment of a crude oil pipeline that was formerly known as the Pegasus Pipeline runs through the Lake Maumelle watershed, which is the largest drinking water reservoir in Arkansas. The pipeline ruptured in 2013, spilling 5,000 barrels of crude into a neighborhood in Mayflower and resulting in $57.5 million in property damage.

The pipeline has been closed since the rupture. Its owner, Energy Transfer Partners, which acquired majority ownership from Exxon in 2016 as part of a joint venture with the oil company, told Central Arkansas Water officials in January that testing and inspection of the pipeline is taking place.

Central Arkansas Water and other utilities have to plan for “low-probability but high-risk” events, McKenzie said.

The agreements were pursued after a 2003 study showed that the region would need an additional 54 million gallons of water per day by 2050. At the time, members of the alliance formed in 2002 were collectively using nearly 100 million gallons daily.

By 2050, the population of the region is expected to reach nearly 1 million, according to estimates.

Not all the water is available in Corps’ lakes, which number 600 nationally. Typically, the lakes are divided into an inactive pool, a conservation pool and a flood control pool.

When planning began, both Lake Ouachita and Greers Ferry Lake had 5% of their water storage capacity available for discretionary uses, which is the capacity the alliance sought.

The first agreement, in 2010, was for Greers Ferry Lake, in which the alliance had a commitment from the Corps for 15 million gallons per day, or about half of the discretionary capacity available. A 2017 agreement allowed the alliance 30 million gallons per day from Lake Ouachita.

The alliance sought another 15 million gallons per day from Greers Ferry Lake in the latest agreement. The total was increased to 20.75 million gallons per day after the city of Clinton withdrew its request for 5.75 million gallons per day. McKenzie said the alliance agreed to take the extra amount.

It is unclear whether the region would be able to tap either lake as a source in the future.

The Corps is undertaking a study of the entire White River basin, which includes Greers Ferry Lake, after flooding in the basin in 2018. Any future requests would have to be filtered through the study recommendations, McKenzie said.

The Little Rock District oversees Greers Ferry Lake, and the Vicksburg District oversees Lake Ouachita.


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