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Arkansas News Bureau
 
Aquifer under Desha County drying fast, study finds
By Rob Moritz

Friday, Apr 9, 2004
LITTLE ROCK - Sections of the underground aquifer that supplies water for farming in southeastern Arkansas could run dry in 15 years if new sources for irrigation are not found, according to a study released Thursday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study found that the area between Dumas and McGehee in Desha County would be one of the first places to run dry.

Also, by 2049 about 93 square miles of the underground aquifer would go dry in Desha, Lincoln and Ashley counties, according to the study.

"It confirms what we have said, or what has been projected in the past ... we really need to be looking at some other ways to reduce the demands on the aquifer," said Earl Smith, water management division chief with the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

The study is the second of three the USGS has completed on the condition of the underground water supply in the state.

In December, the USGS released a study showing that sections of the aquifer under Arkansas, Lonoke and Prairie counties in the Grand Prairie region of East Arkansas could begin running dry in five years.

A third study, on the Sparta aquifer which supplies water to South Arkansas, including Pine Bluff and El Dorado, is to be released in the next few weeks, said USGS spokesman Jim Peterson.

John Czarnecki, a USGS groundwater specialist, said Thursday the recent study shows that to maintain water levels at or above half the thickness of the alluvial aquifer would require cutting underground water pumping in Desha County by about 5 percent from the amount pumped in 1997.

"However, current demand is higher than the 1997 rates so the amount of decrease from present rates would be even greater," he said.

The USGS study was done over several years at a cost of about $1 million. The study is different than previous ones because it developed numerous models of the entire region and determined different scenarios at various rates of water usage.

"The models predict that withdrawing groundwater at 1997 rates would result in parts of the aquifer going dry by 2009," John Czarnecki, a USGS groundwater specialist.

Officials blamed the dropping water table on long-term irrigation for row crops and fisheries in southeastern Arkansas.

The report concluded that above ground water storage, and using above ground water sources, such as rivers and streams, to irrigate would help reduce the stress on the aquifers.

Officials said the state and the Army Corps of Engineers are trying to develop two projects that would use river water for irrigation in east and southeast Arkansas.

The Grand Prairie Irrigation Project, estimated to cost about $319 million, would have the Corps of Engineers construct an intricate system of canals and piping to bring more than 115 billion gallons of water a year from the White River to about 1,000 farmers in Monroe, Arkansas and Prairie counties.

Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to stop that project.

The Bayou Meto project, which also is still being developed, would pump water from the Arkansas River to reservoirs in Jefferson, Arkansas, Prairie and Lonoke counties.

Also, the state has designated several counties in Northeast and South Arkansas as critical groundwater areas to help ease the use of the underground water.

With the designation, the state can call for voluntary restrictions on groundwater use. The state also is able to provide resources, such as tax credits and educational programs, to help landowners use their water more efficiently.
© Arkansas News Bureau www.arkansasnews.com 2004
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