Watershed group gets one-year water quality report

Thursday, January 27, 2005

After a year of tests conducted on the Kings River, dissolved oxygen appears to be at good levels, while nitrates, phosphorus and phosphate content slightly exceeds Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The results were revealed by Sam Davis, a Berryville science teacher who heads up water quality testing volunteers, during the annual meeting of the Kings River Watershed Partnership Thursday evening at Carroll Electric Cooperative in Berryville.

A full year of monthly data has now been collected from four sites in the Kings River basin, which stretches from Kimberling City, Mo., to near Red Star in southeastern Madison County.

The testing sites include the Upper Kings River Lower Osage Creek at County Road 306 below Berryville; and Kings River just above Osage Creek's confluence at the old County Road 306 bridge site. Locations of two other testing sites, one on Osage Creek above Berryville, and another on the Upper Kings River, were changed, and are now located at the so-called Clearwater Bridge on County Road 705 in Carroll County, and just north of the Highway 74 bridge over Onion Creek south of Kingston.

In June, data from a fifth site, operated by the University of Arkansas Water Resource Center and U.S. Geological Survey, was added at Stoney Point on the Kings River below Grandview on the Kings River. Two more sites were added in November, one at the low water bridge on County Road 501 at Piney Creek, and the other at the confluence of Dry Fork and White Oak Creeks near White Oak Church on County Road 543.

The testing program is compatible with guidelines established by the EPA, and results will be regarded as valid scientific data as a plan for the watershed is developed. Thirty-two volunteers, including Eureka Springs and Berryville students, have been trained in the collection and recording of the data.

While a year's worth of data is short of what is needed to get a comprehensive picture of what is happening in the Kings River system, it is a solid start. Thus far, the river's behavior is normal, Davis reported.

The levels of phosphorus and phosphate, while above EPA standards, are favorable when compared with other river systems in the country. "We are ahead of the curve," Davis summarized, "but the pressure is coming." He noted that excessive phosphorus markedly increases the risk of algae blooms.

Table Rock Lake, which the Kings River flows into, has been classified by the EPA as an impaired water for algae growth and excess nutrients. The Arkansas Water Resources Center estimates that the Kings River dumps approximately 150,000 pounds of phosphorus into the lake each year.

The Kings River is the only contributor to the lake that has neither a written nor initiated implementation of a watershed management plan, making it a prime target for outside regulations.

Davis also announced a training session for volunteers doing testing, to have been held Saturday, Jan. 22.

In a separate talk during the partnership's annual meeting, biologist Andrea Radwell stated that data from earlier studies and tests of the Kings River System undoubtedly exist, and should be utilized to create a baseline for comparison in the future.

No one knows what the river's condition was in its pristine condition prior to white settlement, she said.

She exhibited data and photos from her research, largely centered on the West Fork of the White River, showing that in 1894 there were 63 species of fish, while in 2002 there were 39.

Impoundment of the White River has apparently affected life in the tributaries. Eight types of minnows, two suckers, three catfish, one bass, three darters, two lampreys and one eel species are missing from the West Fork system. Those fish include the checkered madtom, which has been in the Kings River, and the yoke darter, which made up 34 percent of the fish population prior to impoundment in 1962-63, but fell to less than one percent in 1965-66.

Radwell praised the partnership for the work done thus far, saying the data collected through 2004's testing is exactly what is needed.

Work on bioassessment of rivers in the United States has only come into common practice in the last 20 years, she said. Riverine bioassessment in Europe has been practiced since the early 1900s.

Board Member Page Shugar of Kingston provided a summary of partnership accomplishments during 2004, including obtaining status as a non-profit organization; partnering with several water quality groups including Missouri's Upper White River Basin Foundation; hiring of Shawna Miller as watershed planner with funds received from the White River foundation through an EPA Watershed Initiative Grant; the second annual Kings River Clean-Up in October; and creation of the partnership's logo and Web site, www.kingsriver watershed.org., which should be running soon.

In other business, three board members, James Sanders and Walter Karnes, both of Berryville, and Ray Warren of Green Forest, were re-elected.

According to Watershed Planner Miller, board meetings are planned to start in March to address goals and development of a plan for the watershed, which could be in place in early 2006.

Without such a plan in place, the EPA could arbitrarily dictate regulations. With its broad representation of the Kings River community, a grassroots-generated plan allows input from all interested parties, including industrial, agricultural and recreational concerns.

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