Opinion: Arkansas Sportsman

OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Old outboards welcome at lake

Central Arkansas Water withdrew its proposed rule to ban two-stroke outboard motors on Lake Maumelle.

The proposal was in a package that accompanied Central Arkansas Water's plan to draw down Lake Maumelle 10 feet from normal pool to eradicate hydrilla. Anglers like hydrilla because it provides nursery habitat for juvenile fish, as well as escape cover and thermal refuge for adult fish.

Central Arkansas Water doesn't like hydrilla because it interferes with the organization's mission to provide clean drinking water to the public. Raven Lawson, watershed protection manager for Central Arkansas Water, said that hydrilla produces and holds sediments and decaying organic matter at a level in the water column that enters water treatment facilities. Detoxifying those pollutants requires additional chemicals, which increases cost.

Also, according to the late Jim Harvey, CAW's longtime executive director, the additional chemicals creates a potential carcinogenic risk.

In order to eliminate hydrilla, CAW wants to draw down the water level to expose the plants to three hard freezes. The air temperature has gotten to freezing, but it hasn't been cold enough to freeze the exposed parts of the plants, Lawson said. It must get cold enough to freeze the roots.

Bass fishing is excellent on Lake Maumelle. First-place tournament weights are comparable with some of our best bass lakes. Anglers equate the good fishing with the hydrilla.

I've been in my job for eight years, and fishing at Lake Maumelle has been good all of my eight years," Lawson said. "And guess what. We had good fishing before we had hydrilla!"

At a public meeting in October to discuss the measures at West Rock Marina, several anglers claimed that birds, namely coots, brought in the hydrilla by eating it in one location and egesting it into Lake Maumelle. That is unlikely. Coots have been on Lake Maumelle for decades. They haven't brought in hydrilla in all those years, so it doesn't follow that they would have brought it in recently.

Most likely hydrilla came to the lake on a boat, which is why the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission insists that boaters sterilize their craft after having visited other lakes. Somebody might also have introduced hydrilla intentionally.

The proposed ban on two-stroke outboard motors upset the anglers more than the hydrilla eradication. The proposal seemed to have no motive except that Central Arkansas Water believed it would convey a progressive "green" message. Two-stroke outboard motors are headed for extinction. A four-stroke motor is more efficient and comparable in price to a new two-stroke, if you can find a new two-stroke.

Even at that, two-stroke outboards made in the last two decades meet environmental standards. They're a lot cleaner than the smog monsters and oil leakers that were common on every lake in the 1960s and 1970s.

Central Arkansas Water did not say or even imply that two-stroke motors pollute the lake. Enough anglers commented against the proposal to persuade Central Arkansas Water to reconsider.

Lawson also said that Central Arkansas Water is considering opening a portion of Lake Winona to kayaking. Kayaking is very popular on the upper section of Lake Maumelle where kayaks are allowed. We're not sure why they are not allowed on Winona and Maumelle entirely. In cockpit style kayaks, the operator is fully enclosed and not in contact with the water. On sit-on-top kayaks, operators are on hard decks above the water. Many kayaks are saltwater capable. Lake Maumelle can get rough, but not as rough as Florida's Pine Island Sound in front of a hurricane. I ran a Hobie across several miles of open water in those conditions two years ago and was never in danger of being out of the boat.

It would make Lake Maumelle even more attractive to an underserved demographic, which would help integrate Lake Maumelle deeper into Central Arkansas's active lifestyle matrix.