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Stream gauge 'vital' to Middle Fork survival
BY JEFF SMITH
The Sentinel-Record
  OWENSVILLE - Even though it's been in operation since May, an official dedication ceremony was held Thursday for the U.S. Geological Survey's Saline River Middle Fork stream gauge, which will provide essential data that may be crucial to the Middle Fork's survival.

  The gauge's presence, at the bridge on Vance Road just north of Owensville, comes as a welcome sight to residents of this community who have repeatedly expressed concern that water use from the Middle Fork by Hot Springs Village and the recent permit to allow two more tributaries to be dammed up to build Lakes Maria and Sophia, are destroying the river's ecological system.

USGS Resentative Taking Measurements
The Sentinel-Record/Jeff Smith
FLOW MEASUREMENT: A representative of the U.S. Geological Survey checks the water discharge flow of the Middle Fork of the Saline River downstream from the newly dedicated stream gauge. Approximately 80 gallons of water per second was flowing beneath the bridge on Vance Road near Owensville.
Pic of Hurlon Ray
CONCERNED RESIDENT: Hurlon Ray of Owensville addressed the crowd at the stream gauge dedication on the Middle Fork of the Saline River at the Vance Road Bridge. Ray and other citizens in the Owensville continue to be concerned about the low level of the river in their area.
The Sentinel-Record/Jeff Smith
  Hurlon Ray, spokesman for the concerned citizens, said, "The gauge will help us document the flow of water coming out of the Middle Fork. For the first time in history, we'll have an accurate measurement of what the village is using."

  There was a question directed to USGS District Chief John Terry about Hefley Creek, one of the tributaries being dammed for the new lakes in the village. The creek is on the downstream side of the Vance Road bridge while the stream gauge is on the upstream side. Terry said the gauge will only take readings from water upstream from it. At the ceremony, Hefley Creek was muddy and not flowing into the river.

  Terry and Mike Armstrong of Arkansas Game and Fish emphasized that the purpose of the stream gauge is to simply collect data.

  "This gauge will give us good information so that good decisions can be made concerning the habitat and natural resources of the Middle Fork," Armstrong said.

  Terry added, "Our mission is to provide interpretative data so that decisions can be made.

  USGS team member Shane Barks explained that the gauge takes readings every 15 minutes. Every four hours, the data is transferred via satellite to the Little Rock office and to the USGS database and website for public viewing.

  "To make sure the gauge is reading properly, we have two more gauges on the bridge," Barks said. "All three are inspected regularly (every eight weeks), and a discharge flow measurement is taken to measure the depth, width and velocity."

  Barks made reference to the USGS worker in the river below the bridge who was doing the discharge flow measurement, which showed that 11.6 cubic feet per second (approximately 80 gallons) was passing under the bridge. He added that the average depth in the area was 2.6 feet.

  The stream gauge cost $18,000 to install and has an $11,000 annual maintenance tab. Terry explained that USGS and Arkansas Game and Fish and funding partners in the venture. USGS maintains about 100 such gauges in the state.

  Terry was asked about water quality checks. He said they are not being done at the moment, but water quality experts are on staff and available to do so when routine checks are made or special visits to the site in the event of excessively dry or wet weather, both of which drastically affect the Middle Fork's flow.

  The water quality issue concerns the Owensville residents, particularly with the village dumping 600,000 gallons of treated effluence daily. The majority of the concerned citizens feel this discharge is causing damage to the river's ecology.

  Ray, an Environmental Protection Agency retiree, said, "I listened and watched the frustration of the residents living on or near the Middle Fork, regarding the low flow, fish depletion and the blue algae. These aquatic degradations begin to occur with the construction of dams on artisan springs and perennial streams on tributaries flowing into the Middle Fork. These dams were constructed without regard to a required constant minimum stream flow back into the Middle Fork."

  Several dignitaries were on hand for the dedication, including representatives from the offices of U.S. Reps. Mike Ross and Vic Snyder, U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson.

  Arkansas General Assembly Speaker of the House Shane Broadway told the group, "I cannot stress the importance of the good data this gauge will provide us in making difficult decisions in the future. This river means a lot to me as I know it means a lot to the people standing on this bridge."

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