River group examines runoff issues at Kings

Monday, May 12, 2003
Map shows the Kings River watershed in dark green. The red inset at bottom right shows the size of the watershed that affects Beaver Lake basin.

The Kings River Watershed Partnership expanded its list of concerns Monday night as about 50 people gathered at the Carroll Electric Cooperative building in Berryville.

The meeting drew an assortment of outdoor recreationists, environmental activists, government officials, farmers and a lone Berryville wastewater treatment plant worker, Gary Gilroy. Divergent views were brought out, ranging from resentment of government mandates, to the use of terracing methods to control runoff, to encouraging the use of low-phosphate detergents.

Ray Warren, a former Class 3 wastewater treatment operator, narrated a series of photos he took of tributaries of the Kings River, along Keels Creek, in Carroll County, and along Osage Creek in Berryville, to demonstrate the different effects of water runoff in the wilderness and in towns, where there are large expanses of impervious surfaces.

He noted the importance of proper disposal of household wastes, used motor oil and anti-freeze, complimenting the work of the Carroll County Solid Waste Authority.

Alluding to the new sidewalks being built by the City of Berryville, he cautioned that without proper drainage, a problem could be created downstream. Additionally, he said, streets often help drain runoff from roofs of houses, creating a quick build-up of water rushing through gutters "like a pipeline."

A similar problem can take place with runoff from large buildings, such as churches and stores, which often have considerable paved parking. He noted that from Meeks Lumber to Economy Drug in Berryville, there is almost continuous paving along the south side of U.S. Highway 62.

In industrial parks, the runoff is not as great where "blue gravel" is used in parking areas, but water running through such lots contributes to the build-up of sediments downstream. "Water is nature's greatest solvent," he said. "It will pick up a little of everything and carry it into the watershed."

Warren noted that a .3-inch rain on one acre weighs 68,000 pounds.

A large volume of water enhances erosion where vegetation has been cut, and can scour the channel, removing gravel beds, thus eliminating the environment for certain invertebrates which were once common in the Kings River system.

He noted some businesses, such as Wal-Mart in Harrison, and Carroll Regional Medical Center, have established storm water control measures, including pond storage, and treatment of runoff.

He recommended that contoured terraces be built where hard surfaces, such as in parking lots, leave off, to slow the velocity of runoff water.

He criticized an observation made at April's meeting saying that the Kings is in better shape that it was several decades ago, because floods do not last as long. He identified the riparian zone of rivers, which contain plant life that slows the speed of runoff.

In many spots along the Kings and its tributaries, the riparian zone has been stripped away, he said. He recommended the planting of reeds and willows alongside water channels to reduce the erosive power of water.

Rainwater runoff also carries a big nutrient stream into the river, which can enhance problematic algae growth.

Ernie Kilman, who has been coordinating and doing clean-ups of the Kings River since 1998, discussed some of his experiences.

He has been involved in 18 clean-ups in the last five years, often with from 100 to 200 people participating.

More than 500 tires, from automobile tires to dozer tires, have been pulled from the river ---- no easy feat, he said, considering how heavy the gravel-filled tires can be. Whole truck beds, cigarette machines, toilets, and three dump truck loads of glass have also been found in the river.

He suggested that dumpsters be placed outside of the flood planes in areas, such as highway crossings, where those floating the river can dispose of trash. He also suggested that the county could outlaw glass between the banks of the river.

Portable toilets could also be placed along the rivert, and signage placed, educating people "how to be one with the river," Warren said.

Others present observed that similar efforts in the past have resulted in vandalism of toilets and dumpsters.

Education of young people was encouraged, as they often take the message home to their parents.

One participant decried laws passed a few years ago by the state to limit gravel mining, restricting what farmers can do to waterways. Another said that in one place there are entirely too many willows growing, rerouting the river bed by several hundred feet. He noted that the river is a lot cleaner now than it was in the 1940s and 1930s, before the introduction of fescue and bermuda grass, chicken litter as fertilizer, and "the 'pasturization' of the county."

Another farmer complained of recently-passed laws in the state legislature which expands control of nutrient application in the watersheds of the White and Illinois rivers in Arkansas.

A former hog grower stated that he had to comply with similar rules in the disposal of liquid wastes, and said, "It is not a big deal. Litter is an asset, something you can sell to your neighbors. It's not the end of the world."

He said that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is very agriculture friendly, and that if the situation of the Kings, with the State of Missouri threatening legal action, is allowed to be let go, like the Illinois situation was, farming operations could be shut down. "We have the time," he said.

Dr. Marc Nelson, of the Arkansas Water Resources Center at the University of Arkansas, who spoke at the partnership's first public meeting in April, offered to assist interested persons in increasing monitoring of the river system, noting that the state can assist with money and expertise. Information collected could be used by the partnership members to develop plans to address the phosphorous/phosphate problem in the river, and other problematic aspects of the watershed's environment.

Brief mention was made of the need for the partnership to incorporate as a non-profit, IRS 501-3C organization for tax and grant purposes, and institution of membership dues. Further organizational development was suggested to accommodate lobbying, letter-writing, clean-up and fund-raising efforts.

"We're just starting," said organizational pioneer Patt Milam. "It's going to take input from all of us. If you are looking for answers, we don't have them yet. There are so many things to look at with so many perspectives. Please stay with us and we will work on this river together."

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