|River dedication turns into forum
|By: Jerry Breeden
August 16, 2002
Middle Fork residents speak out against dams during ceremony for new measuring station
Cutting the ribbon officially opening a flow measuring station on the
Middle Fork of the Saline River on Thursday are, from left, Mike Armstrong,
Spencer Sessions, Donna Blackwood and John Terry.
OWENSVILLE - The unveiling Thursday of a new stream-flow measuring station on the Saline River turned into a forum for those opposed to two new dams on a tiny Middle Fork tributary at Vance Bridge near here.|
Following speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the U.S. Geological Survey's satellite-controlled data-gathering device, several Middle Fork property owners spoke.
Katie Smith, who said hers is probably the last house on the downstream end of the Middle Fork, said if the gauge had been installed there, "you wouldn't find enough water to measure today."
Smith said she thinks the residents of Hot Springs Village "are being wrongfully blamed for a lot of things that aren't their fault."
She said she and other property owners met many times with local, state and federal officials to speak against the dams prior to their approval. She said only those agencies that were established to protect rivers and streams should be held accountable.
"These rivers," Smith said, "should all be free-flowing."
After months of study, debate and public hearings, construction of the dams was approved in late June by J. Randy Young, executive director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
The dams are being built by Cooper Land Development of Bella Vista, developers of Hot Springs Village.
They will provide water for two lakes, one for recreation and the other for irrigation of a new golf course, in Hot Springs Village.
Cooper already has three dams on Middle Fork tributaries. One is near Mill Creek where Darrell Ault resides.
Ault said Thursday that the Lake Cortez Dam has had a huge impact on the water flow in that section of the river.
He said he, his brothers and sisters learned to swim there when they were young, but added, "There's not a place on the creek now that's more than ankle deep."
He said there is less measurable water there today than ever, even with the daily discharge of some 600,000 gallons of treated sewage from HSV into the river.
Willie Vance, for whom the bridge where the ceremony was held is named, predicted there will be "1.2 million gallons of sewage coming downriver when this is all done."
He handed congressional aide Spencer Sessions, who represented U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson at the ceremony, pictures showing a dramatic drop in the water level at the bridge from 1985 to the present.
"Show the senator these pictures and tell him what we're up against," Vance said. "Tell him we need some help."
Sessions said he will forward the photographs and comments to the congressman.
Vance told the Benton Courier that his cattle, which are cared for by a nephew, "used to drink from this river, but they don't any more. Too many phosphates and too much algae. My nephew now waters them from a pond on his place."
Benton resident Rick Holland said he attended the ceremony because he is "concerned not only about the quantity, but the quality of the water and how the river is being affected by the dams."
Holland owns property along the river in Benton.
Hurlon Ray, who was born one the river in 1921, said the dams "were constructed without regard to a required constant minimum stream flow-back into the Middle Fork."
He said that section of the river "is a very complex aquatic ecosystem that requires enough free-flowing water for fish (and other species) to spawn, rear and grow without impairment to their natural life cycle."
He said the Middle Fork "cannot produce enough drinking water for the residents of Hot Springs Village, nine golf courses, lawns and recreation and still maintain the criteria for a designated extraordinary stream during low rainfall months."
Ray said the "real answer to the Village's water problem lies just nine miles to the west. They could construct a pipeline to Lake Ouachita for a permanent solution to their needs at a cost of about $4.2 million."
Jason Phillips, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pointed out that the federally protected Arkansas Fatmucket mussel lives in the river.
He said it helps filter the water by trapping certain impurities in the stream.
Phillips was asked why the mussel's presence couldn't prevent the construction of the Middle Fork dams like it did near Benton in the 1990s.
He said that's because the mussel doesn't exist within the tributaries, but does in the main part of the stream where the Benton dam would have been built.
When Young released his ruling allowing for construction of the latest dams, he wrote that:
"Cooper Land Development presented charts from data collected at the United States Geological Survey gauging station at Benton. The charts show there has been no significant depletion of flows in the Middle Fork since the development of HSV."
"Citizens were concerned that Lake Norrell's releases upstream of the Benton gauging station would make the data from that station invalid in computing monthly stream flows. However, a USGS representative stated that since the drainage area covered by the Benton gauge is over 500 square miles and the feed from Lake Norrell is very small by comparison, any effect would be almost impossible to detect."
When asked about attribution of the statement to an unidentified USGS representative, Terry said he doesn't believe "there's a problem with the gauge at Benton" and that the statement was incorrect.
He said efforts to find the source of the statement are ongoing.
Steve DiCicco, Water Plant manager for the city of Benton, said Lake Norrell releases "can run as high as 30 million gallons per day" during the summer.
He said that amount of water being discharged at the Benton Spillway, which is where the USGS gauge is located, could raise the Saline River water level "by about five inches, which would be extremely hard not to detect."
Terry said data collected from the Vance Bridge measuring station will deal strictly with the quantity - not the quality - of the water coming from upstream.
The gauge is a joint project by the USGS and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. AG & FC representative Mike Armstrong said data collected by the gauge will help determine the impact of Hot Springs Village on the river's flow rate and how it affects wildlife.
He said a minimum of "two to three years" worth of data will be necessary for establishing minimum flow rates.
The gauge and the cost of installation amounted to $18,000. It will cost $11,000 a year to operate and maintain. It is one of about 100 the USGS maintains throughout Arkansas.
The river's flow rate measured 11.3 cubic feet of water a second on the gauge Thursday morning.
©Benton Courier 2002