story by Kim Souza
Many residents in Northwest Arkansas have no idea where their water is sourced, but for the past half century Beaver Lake, which was completed in the mid 1960s, has been the water source for the growing region.
Every day 45 million gallons are pumped from the lake and treated at the Beaver Water District in Lowell. For every 100 gallons treated, just one gallon is used for drinking water, the rest goes to maintaining homes and industry across Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties.
The mayors of Fayetteville, Springdale and Lowell along with other city leaders from Bentonville and Rogers raised their glasses in a toast to safe drinking water at the conclusion of Monday’s (May 5) Drinking Water Week kickoff at Beaver Water District in Lowell. All the mayors read a proclamation signifying their support of Drinking Water Week, a time set aside each May to recognize the vital role water plays in sustaining public health and fostering economic growth.
When Beaver Lake was finished in 1966 at a cost $60 million, Bentonville had a population of 5,000, Rogers 10,000, Siloam Springs 3,500 and Bella Vista was a resort area. These areas now are home to at least 240,000 people.
Fayetteville and Springdale had about 33,000 residents when the lake was completed. Today, Washington County has an estimated population of 220,000. Local metro area estimates could cross the 500,000 population threshold this summer and all of them get their water from Beaver Lake and the local water district.
“When I think about the vision a few men had to create an abundant water supply for this region, it’s amazing. Without it, there is no way our region would have been able to experience the exponential growth it has seen over the past 20 years. Before we had Beaver Lake each town had to find it’s own water source. In Springdale, that was Lake Springdale, fed by a natural spring. Ironically, the city just purchased that area for the Razorback Greenway trail system,” said Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse.
Fayetteville Mayor Lionel Jordan said clean air and clean water are two of his passions. Being raised on a local farm before the completion of Beaver Lake, he remembers drawing lots of water from the family well. He said those days are long gone, and residents can go to their tap and never worry about the safety of the water that pours abundantly. Jordan read his proclamation and also asked the citizens to also think about water conservation as they perform their regular household duties.
Earl Rausch, water utility engineer for the city of Rogers, said before Beaver Lake the city got its water supply from Lake Atalanta. During a drought in the late 1960s he said the lake nearly dried up and had to be refilled from neighboring Beaver Lake.
“There is no way Lake Atalanta could have sustained the growth that the city of Rogers has seen in the past 30 years,” Rausch said.
Mike Bender, public works director for the city of Bentonville, said the teamwork of the core cities with the Beaver Water District is key to helping the cities serve their own customers.
“One of Bentonville’s largest customers is Bella Vista. With nearly 30,000 people they use nearly as much water we do in Bentonville. There are four core customers to Beaver Water District but they serve many outlying areas, it’s far reaching,” Bender said.
Bentonville used four springs for its water source prior to Beaver Lake, he said.
“I continue to be surprised by how little so many people know about their local infrastructure. I remember some years ago at a construction site there was a tanker parked near the site. Someone asked what the tanker was doing there. They thought it was filling up the fire hydrants,” Bender said.
Bill Watkins, president of the Beaver Water District board, said the entire region is fortunate to have the abundant water source that can service the growth for years to come. The capacity of Beaver Water District is 140 million gallons a day.
“As I travel around I see other towns and regions that don’t have this asset and water costs are much higher and growth is slower,” Watkins said.
Walter Turnbow, retired president of Steele Canning and a former board member for Beaver Water District, has said Beaver Lake saved Springdale’s food processing industry. According to Turnbow, Steele Canning (Springdale) had to use springs and some deep wells but if a dry summer hit, the water dried up. He credits Joe Steele and other local business leaders who lobbied for a better water supply.
Watkins said Springdale is Beaver Water District’s largest core customer because of its strong industrial base.