Kings River's new watershed planner knows the territory -- Eureka Springs HS alumnus brings impressive credentials

Thursday, September 30, 2004
Shawna Miller

Shawna Miller is extremely excited to return home to be the watershed planner for the Kings River Watershed Partnership and the Upper White River Foundation.

A 1997 alumnus of Eureka Springs High School, she graduated cum laude in 2001 from Rhodes College at Memphis, Tenn., with a major in biology focusing on ecology, and a minor in anthropology and sociology.

She has worked in the resource management division of both the Buffalo National River and the Padre Island National Seashore, and was the biological assistant for the Greening the Corps Program of the National Wildlife Federation, a national grassroots campaign working for reform of the Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works Division.

Such credentials, coupled with a local's knowledge of Carroll County, made her an ideal candidate for the paid position of watershed planner for the Kings River Watershed, which she assumed this summer.

"I did not know I would be so lucky," she said Monday.

Equally fortunate is the status of the Kings River.

"We're in a great position to preserve it," she said. "It is not degraded like so many rivers in the state. Berryville is our largest 'metropolis' and we have a lot of forest which helps to buffer nutrients."

The watershed community is very willing and hoping to help, she said. "They want to be good stewards of the land. They're not anti-conservation. They're asking how they can do things better, which makes my job easy, getting information to them about little things they can do to improve. The response already has been fantastic."

Miller is also pleased with the cooperation which KRWP experiences with neighbors in Missouri and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. She is optimistic that litigation with Missouri can be avoided, unlike the situation of recent years in cities in the Interstate 540 corridor where wastewater flows into Oklahoma's Illinois River.

The Upper White River Basin, of which the Kings River is a part, includes a large portion of Northwest Arkansas and about one-fifth of Missouri, a region which is experiencing phenomenal growth.

That growth, of course, puts stress on the environment. Creating a comprehensive watershed management plan implemented by all the stakeholders is the only way to insure protection of water resources and self-regulation, versus regulation by outside agencies, she said.

Timing is important, because the Kings River is a major contributor to Table Rock Lake, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as an impaired water due to algae growth and excess nutrients.

Estimates by the Arkansas Water Resources Center indicate the Kings dumps about 150,000 pounds of phosphorous into Table Rock Lake each year.

The Kings River is the only contributor to the lake which has not got a written notice or started implementation of a watershed management plan, making the area a prime target for outside regulations.

KRWP is conducting regular testing of water at several sites on the Kings and its tributary of Osage Creek. Tests include a wide range of factors, including turbidity, alkalinity, hardness, temperature, macroinvertebrates, phosphorus, phosphates, suspended solids, and nitrates. Relationships of these various factors reflect much about water quality.

Results of macroinvertebrates testing are good, giving a indication of the general water quality. However, phosphorus is many times higher than what the EPA calls for, making its reduction a prime concern.

Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring substance, but much of the river's phosphorus is put in by people in the watershed.

Miller wants to stay away from pointing fingers at sources, such as agriculture, industry and urban development. "It's not about being judgmental," she said.

Miller believes phosphate content in treated wastewater is best addressed prior to wastewater's entry into a treatment plant, such as using phosphate-free detergents and responsible application of fertilizer. "It's cheaper to do it before the water enters the treatment plant," she observed.

The Carroll County Quorum Court recently declined to vote on an ordinance which may have a significant impact on Kings River Water Quality. Introduced by the Carroll County Health Unit, the ordinance would have rescinded application of the state's near century-old 10-acre exemption on septic systems.

The health unit called for the ordinance due to several places in Carroll County where raw sewage and inadequate septic systems are polluting the environment.

The quorum court's inaction followed an opinion by Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers that counties have no legal authority to rescind a state exemption, even though similar ordinances have been approved in other counties.

If KRWP determined the state's exemption should be reversed, Miller has contacts with many groups in the state, such as the Arkansas Wildlife Foundation, through which lobbying efforts could be directed.

Culturally, there appears to be a significant portion of the county's residents who resist the idea of land use planning and government telling them what they can do with their land.

Miller says that, in talking with stakeholders in the watershed, while they are afraid of outside directives about what they can do with their farms, they are not against changing their operations to lessen their impact on the water. "So they're not anti-clean water," she said. "They just don't want outside regulators telling them how to run things and keep checking back to make sure they're doing it.

"That's the beauty of a watershed plan. It's all about a community volunteer effort," she continued. "It's not like what happened with the Buffalo River. Instead of taking out the human element, we can do it without eliminating the economy. It plays on the idea that people living here can be the best stewards."

Information is an important part of the process, and an important part of Miller's job. "I am very open to suggestions and ideas anyone in the community has to offer," she said. "It's so important, getting everyone's input. Don't let your neighbors do it, but come talk to me."

She is more than willing to speak to community groups and classes about KRWP's concerns and goals, and welcomes anyone wanting to come on board.

"We cannot stress enough that this plan will be written by the stakeholders for the stakeholders, and implemented only through the stakeholders," she said.

To become part of the KRWP, arrange for Miller to speak, or for more information, persons may contact her by calling (479) 981-1172, or e-mailing kingsriver@earthlink.net.

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