‘Extraordinary’ water rule not a Pine Mountain Dam deal-killer

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 68 views 

The purpose of the Pine Mountain Dam Reevaluation Study is not intended to focus on the economic feasibility of Pine Mountain Dam, according to Mark Yardley, project manager for the River Valley Regional Water District.

Yardley also asserts that a stringent environmental designation on Lee Creek doesn’t automatically prevent the possibility of constructing Pine Mountain Dam.

The public input process related to the Pine Mountain Dam study begins Monday with the Army Corps of Engineers holding meetings and accepting written comments as they evaluate long-term water supply needs and solutions for the RVRWD. The study is exploring whether a proposed lake on Lee Creek in northern Crawford County is the best approach to meet the long-term water supply needs, or whether other alternatives would do the same. Between federal fiscal years 2010 and 2014, the Pine Mountain Dam study will receive $3.44 million. The study received $1.709 million as of April 2009.

Both meetings will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The first meeting will be Monday, Oct. 26, at the Concord Baptist Church, 6105 Alma Highway in Alma. The second will be Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, Carl Totemier Center, 4703 N. Crossover Road, in Fayetteville.

“The first step in the study will be to determine what the water needs are for the region. Once that has been determined, then the EIS (environmental impact statement) will outline the pros and cons (environmental, cultural, financial, family and business dislocations, etc.) for each feasible alternative,” Yardley noted in an e-mail interview with The City Wire.

Yardley was asked by The City Wire how approval for construction of Pine Mountain Dam would get past Arkansas’ Extraordinary Water Resource Designation now placed on Lee Creek.

According to the ERW regulation, lifting the designation requires two triggers: “(1) the sole purpose for the funding and construction of the reservoir is to provide a domestic water supply; and (2) there are no feasible alternatives to constructing a reservoir in order to meet the domestic water needs of the citizens of the State of Arkansas.” The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, The Nature Conservancy, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Heritage Commission and the Sierra Club are on record opposing Pine Mountain.

“Given that the EIS study has only just begun in earnest and will not be completed for another 3 years, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict which alternative will be selected much less what problems Pine Mountain might have if it were selected,” Yardley said.  
Yardley also explained that the ERW law once lacked a process by which a city or water authority could submit information for consideration. Now, according to Yardley, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology have the ability to consider petitions and weigh the suitability of a proposal.

Debbie Doss, an active member of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, Arkansas Canoe Club and Arkansas Conservation Coalition, told The City Wire she will attend the public meetings to express her opposition to Pine Mountain Dam. Doss recently wrote an article urging members of the aforementioned groups to oppose the dam.

“It is important to note that Fort Smith listed at least 14 other alternatives for water supplies before deciding on the Lake Fort Smith expansion, which is capable of further expansion should water needs increase after the year 2050. If Crawford and Sebastian Counties do one day require a new drinking water source or just want an independent source, a much better alternative exists than damming valuable free flowing streams,” Doss noted in the article.