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El Dorado News-Times

Focusing on Sparta Officials stress importance of education in effort to save aquifer
News-Times Staff   UNION- The water well behind the Union Academy of Health and Wellness may not look like much, but what it tells students there about the future of water resources in the county is immeasurable.

The academy - one of two public schools in the county with a study well - is representative of the educational component which is vital to the "Save the Sparta" effort in Union County.

Sparta update John E. Terry, director of the Arkansas Water Science Center U.S. Department of Interior U.S. geological survey, speaks about trends in water tables in the Sparta Aquifer. Recent data may suggest favorable changes in the level as a result of water conservation efforts in Union County. Data from that well, including water levels and water quality changes, is available to students from inside the school's computer lab and is assisting geologists in monitoring the status of the Sparta aquifer.

"We are only beginning to monitor the aquifer, but results from some wells in the area suggest the conservation efforts ... are paying dividends in rising water levels," said John Terry, director of Arkansas' Water Science Center and the U.S. Geological Survey in Little Rock.

Terry was speaking Thursday with representatives of the school district, local industry and the Union County Water Conservation Board about the importance of their continued efforts to save the aquifer.

"The Union well is an important part of the network," he said. "It's important as a marker for continued improvement in the water levels for the Sparta."

The Sparta aquifer, once a pristine and plentiful groundwater source for residents, faced irreparable damage nearly a decade ago as residential and industrial customers almost depleted the natural resource. This near depletion placed Union County among the first five in the state declared a critical groundwater area by the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

"We had a problem. I hope that problem is behind us now," said Union County Judge Bobby Edmonds.

"It took the U.S. Geological Survey to alert us to the seriousness of the issue. The way we found the problem was through monitoring the wells ... It.s nice to have young people involved, to let some of us old ones move over," he said, laughing.

Union High School Principal Frank Futch referenced the "three spokes in the wheel" now in place focusing on conservation efforts - the water conservation board, the U.S.G.S. and the school.

Futch said the school was the educational compliment to the management and scientific components of the conservation wheel.

Ken Rudder, plant operations manager at Lion Oil, who also serves as vice president of the UCWCB, reemphasized the commitment of big industry to conservation but added that there is an even more important element to consider.

"If you don't think I believe in conservation, you got another thing coming ... more important than that is the educational component," he said.

Rudder added that getting younger folks involved not only educates them, but helps transmit the conservation message back to their parents.

"It turned out, the amount of water we thought we were using was 50 percent of what we were actually using," said Rudder, who added that what amounted to a 10 percent water reduction came from immediate efforts to educate the public about cutting back in usage without the county having to spend a dime.

Lion Oil and El Dorado Chemical both are doing their part. They recently converted over three million gallons of water a day switching from ground to surface water, according to Rudder.

Union Academy science teacher Sheri Rankin told the group she is pleased with the results of the cooperation between industry, residents and the school.

"This is a great way to make the textbook lesson apply to the student's everyday life," she concluded.

┬ęThe El Dorado News-Times 2005
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