Fort Smith area water supplies surviving the heat

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 119 views 

Many communities around the country have instituted various forms of water conservation measures in response to lengthy periods of high heat and little to no rain.

Fortunately, Fort Smith and water districts in the region supplied by the Fort Smith system have not had to take such actions.

The first half of 2012 was the warmest start to any year going back to 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center. In addition to the heat, 56% of the 48 contiguous states are now affected by drought, which is the largest percentage in the 12 years that the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Neb., has kept track.

Bartlesville, Okla., is seeking up to 25% reduction in water consumption. Several communities in Kentucky have recently lifted water conservation rules. Cathy Stepp, the director of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, is asking state residents to cut back on water use.

Arkansas Gov Mike Beebe announced Tuesday (July 10) that he has asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for a Secretarial Disaster Designation to cover all 75 counties in Arkansas. Persistently dry conditions now have caused 88% of the state to be in a severe drought and 36 percent of the state is in an extreme drought.

“It will take much more than the recent scattered rain to break these drought conditions," Beebe said in a statement. "Many of our farmers and ranchers face a tough season ahead, and the federal government can provide them with tools to ease the financial impact of crop losses."

If issued, the declaration would qualify eligible farmers and ranchers to receive emergency loans to support operations hampered by the drought. Beebe sent the U.S. Department of Agriculture a similar request for 13 drought-stricken Arkansas counties last month, a request that will now be supplanted by the statewide application.

The Fort Smith Water Watch report for July 5 indicates Fort Smith residents are using less water at 35.1 million gallons per day than they did through the same period last year when average daily production was at a combined 36 million gallons for Lee Creek and Lake Fort Smith reservoirs.

The number also fell from the June 28 report when an overall 38.1 million gallons were in use.

Lake Fort Smith is capable of handling “32 to 33 million gallons per day,” but should be at 40 million gallon-per-day levels, according to Steve Parke, director of utilities for the city of Fort Smith. For excess, the city draws from the Lee Creek reservoir, though that may not be the case for long.

Parke estimates that Lake Fort Smith will hit the 40 million-per-day number “in about 24 months,” once additions and improvements are made to the existing pipeline starting in “the last part of 2012 or early part of next year.”

Until then, Parke states that Fort Smith has nothing to worry about as far as drought conditions are concerned. “Lake Fort Smith has adequate supply through 2060,” Parke said, adding that “if we have normal rains this fall, Lee Creek will do fine.”

Parke continued: “The only problem with drought conditions is you don’t know you’re in one until you’re in it.”

Still, Parke notes, Lee Creek has “quite a bit of room” with 10 million gallon-per-day capabilities and a 23.5 million gallon short-term capacity. For the week of July 5, Lee Creek produced only 9.7 million gallons, way down from last year’s 14.9 million.

Lake Fort Smith produced 25.4 million gallons last week, up from 21 million during the same period last year, but down from 28.2 million for the week of June 28, 2012.