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08/21/2002
Middle Fork stream flow gauge promises USGS scientific data
by: Hank Deutsch, News Writer

A large and diverse group of federal and state natural resource agency officials, Congressional staffs, State legislators, major state and local news media, together with a large representation of local community leaders and local residents from the valley of the Middle Fork of the Saline River, attended the official dedication of the stream flow gauge station by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The station is the first and only gage on the Middle Fork. It is one of over 100 similar stations located in Arkansas and is located adjacent to the Middle Fork at Vance Bridge north of Owensville, east of the Village.

The $18,000 stream gage is solar powered and linked by satellite to the USGS data center in Little Rock. The maintenance is financed in a cooperative program between the USGS and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). " The AGFC hopes that the new data will provide the needed information for the biologists to determine the impacts to the wildlife and fisheries of the stream. We have been requesting the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission to set minimum stream flows on the Middle Fork so that we can properly determine any harmful impacts to the fisheries habitat," said Mike Armstrong, assistant chief of the AGFC fisheries division.

The morning ceremony was held on the Vance Road Bridge, which had been closed for the formal dedication. Al Behm, the newly elected chairman of the POA water and lake management committee and members of the public works staff were the only Villager officials that attended.

USGS officials from Little Rock stressed the importance of the station in gathering scientific data for the first time on the Middle Fork. They said that although there has been much information gathered about the Middle Fork, most of it is based on local observation and personal memories. The data from the station together with the data from other similar watersheds and supportive studies taken from the Middle Fork will hopefully reduce much of the "polarization and emotion" over the use of the Middle Fork by upstream users, such as the Village.

Local observers were proud to point to the estimated 100 attendees, especially the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives Shane Broadway, local state legislators and Congressional staffs and other public elected officials. The USGS had a large delegation of their field hydrologists present and a demonstration of many of the instruments they use to measure stream flows and other hydrological data. Representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission were also in attendance.

The guage has been operational since mid-May and is monitored daily with periodic field checks. "We hope to provide the needed science to make good decisions and this gage will provide us with timely and appropriate data for the decision makers," said John Terry, district chief of the USGS from Little Rock.

Most of the agency hydrologists, engineers and biologists agreed that there was no scientific information concerning any damage to the Middle Fork from the Village. Jason Phillips, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there is no evidence to indicate that the threatened Arkansas fatmucket or any other aquatic species is being harmed. However, the species is used as an indicator of water quality. He called for water quality studies to be made in conjunction with the data collection by the USGS. However, with the USGS beginning studies and the various other state and federal agencies involvement, "It will be a new day on the Middle Fork!" said one of the natural resource specialists.

The gathering concluded with presentations from Middle Fork Valley residents, including Hurlon Ray, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens of the Upper Middle Fork. Most attacked the water use and management policies of Hot Springs Village, Diamante Golf Course and the future construction of the 9 hole golf course by Cooper Land Development Co. Catherine Smith wanted the state legislators to investigate how state agencies allowed the Village to dam tributaries and harm the Middle Fork. Anthony Johnson compared the VillageÆs use of water to a "vampireàsucking the water and killing the Middle Fork." Willie Vance and Darrell Ault said that the Village has not always treated their sewage before dumping it into the Middle Fork. Vance pointed to the "Jenny Branch" which is an intermittent stream which flows into the Middle Fork at Vance Bridge. "This is the stream they are trying to dam up when they build the 9-hole golf course. We just keep losing water," said Vance shaking his head.

Ray insists that the Village should stop itÆs use of the Middle Fork for irrigation, release more water from Village lakes, divert treated effluent from the Middle Fork and use it for golf course irrigation and develop a pipeline for water for the Village from Lake Ouachita. "There is something fundamentally wrong when state and federal agencies allow a development like the Village to harm the extraordinary Middle Fork. They have not done their job!" said Ray.

For further information on the stream flow gage, contact the USGS at 501-228-3667 or visit the website at http://www.ark.usgs.gov.