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Pine Bluff Commercial
January 22, 2003
McGEHEE - Board members of the Boeuf-Tensas Water Conservation Project received a frightening prediction Tuesday when John Czarnecki of the United States Geological Survey presented computer-generated models of what eastern Arkansas will look like in the year 2049 if something is not done about the amount of groundwater presently being used but not replenished.

Ann Cash, executive director of the project, agreed that if the present rate of consumption without replenishment continues, eastern Arkansas will look like a sinkhole with only river water and rainwater available.

Nine counties and parts of two others have already been declared critical because the drawdown on the groundwater level - the fresh water underneath the earth's surface - has reached 50 percent or less.

The counties that are listed as the mose critical are Jefferson, Lonoke, Prairie, Arkansas, Columbia, Union, Ouachita, Calhoun and Bradley.

Eastern portions of Pulaski and White counties also have been declared critical.

Czarnecki said that Arkansas ranks fourth among all states in total groundwater usage, primarily because of agricultural needs.

Arkansas County with its vast rice crops is the biggest user of underground water.

Czarnecki said there are more than 45,000 wells in the eastern portion of the state that, according to numbers available in 1995, pumped 5 billion cubic feet of water per day.

Arkansas County alone pumps around 550 million gallons per day from the alluvial aquifer.

Since 1960, the water table has dropped roughly 80 feet.

In the area of primary concern to the Boeuf-Tensas conservationists, geologists are already seeing cones of depression because of the drop in the water table.

What the water distribution district hopes to do is look at alternative models that would at least help stabilize the water table, if not help it recover.

Those alternatives could include the use of reservoirs and pumping water from the Arkansas River into area canals to deliver water to 1.2 million acres, the majority of which is farmland.

Cash said there are at least two more years left on the study phase of the project, with 10 years of construction after that.

She added that if the problem is not addressed, there will come a time when the aquifer will be unable to recover.

"It's like Humpty Dumpty," she said. "It can't be fixed."

The board met at the Corps of Engineers headquarters in Vicksburg in November to establish objectives and constraints in the feasibility study.

The objectives are to stabilize the alluvial aquifer, sustain/enhance and restore the area ecosystems, reduce the flood damage in the residential and agricultural areas and improve water quality.

The group is attempting to maintain the aquifer at a minimum of 50 percent saturation level while avoiding an impact on the ecosystem. That includes impacting endangered species as well as maintaining wetlands and introducing or spreading invasive species.

The feasibility study will also examine ways of maintaining a minimum flow in the Arkansas River and the natural rise and fall of Bayou Bartholomew.

Cash added that an important consideration is that the project will not induce flood damage to Louisiana.

┬ęPine Bluff Commercial  2003
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