Carroll-Boone votes to oppose 'water quality protection' bill
The Carroll-Boone Water District (CBWD) Board voted Thursday to join with the Beaver Water District in opposing Senate Bill 230, for an act to be titled, "The Water Quality Protection Act of 2005."
The bill is being sponsored by 21 state senators and one representative. None of Carroll County's senators or representatives have sponsored the bill.
The act provides for landowners who own property in a watershed of a public drinking supply and want to alter their land in some way to enter into a "voluntary" stewardship agreement with the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission to come up with a plan to preserve water quality and avoid endangering the drinking supply.
The act would limit the current power of a water supplier, such as Carroll-Boone, to condemn a private landowner's property by eminent domain in order to protect the water supply. The bill would state it can still condemn, but only as "a last resort."
Once the landowner signs the stewardship agreement, the agreement would run with the land and the landowner would be subject to regulatory authority and enforcement by Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation to carry it out.
The act would require water districts to "demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that all alternatives to condemnation ... have been evaluated and demonstrated to be inadequate...."
The act also invokes the emergency clause, partly because, it states, "entities with the power of eminent domain have resorted to condemnation of property as a substitute for effective regulation of land-use management practices."
The Beaver Water District sent a letter to Carroll-Boone in late January asking it to join with them in opposing the bill.
Along with a letter, it sent a briefing paper listing its reasons for opposing the legislation.
It states the use of condemnation for property acquisition is "already a last resort" in existing laws and regulations.
Property owners can already contest it, they say, and limiting condemnation power could restrict or halt water districts' ability to construct or expand treatment plants and other drinking water facilities.
Beaver Water District also opposes removing the power of condemnation from locally elected officials who understand and oversee water quality for their constituents and putting it in the hands of a state agency.
Further, the burden of proof of negative impact on water quality shifts from the property owner to the water utility.
"We've also used condemnation as a last resort," said Lewis Epley, attorney for Carroll-Boone. "We've always tried to work with property owners. To inject additional steps into the process would make it more difficult to use condemnation."
He recommended siding with Beaver Water District to oppose the bill.
"To have to demonstrate by 'clear and convincing evidence' -- that's a very tough burden of proof," he said.
"Generally you prove something by a preponderance of evidence that tips the scales. Clear and convincing evidence is very tough."
He said introducing a state agency into the equation can create lengthy delays in the process, but if there had to be a state agency at all, he would rather see the State Health Department involved.
CBWD Office Manager Jim Allison said Carroll-Boone currently does not have a water quality problem and has received excellent ratings at its end of Beaver Lake.
The board will send a letter to the appropriate state representatives opposing the bill.
Green Forest Mayor Richard Deweese and Public Works Director Buddy Fry attended Thursday's meeting to ask about the demand surcharge Carroll-Boone imposes on the cities.
He said Green Forest has recently stopped producing its own water because the treatment plant is in need of repair, and the city cannot afford to to repair it.
Fry said the solid contact unit needs to be replaced and estimated the cost to be around $200,000.
He explained the city leases Anderson Spring for a nominal fee each year, but once the city ceases to use the spring, the lease terminates and control reverts back to the owner.
"We'd hate to lose that water source," he said, explaining that the water is pure and abundant. "We've never been able to drop a level on that spring yet."
Deweese called it a valuable asset and asked whether Carroll-Boone might want to take it over as part of its disaster-preparedness plan.
"It would be good to have another supply of clean drinking water," he said.
Asked whether, in the event of a terrorist attack on the dam, Anderson Spring could supply Green Forest's needs, consulting engineer Carl Yates of McGoodwin, Williams & Yates (MWY) said certainly, and the cities east of Green Forest as well. The spring produces 1.25 million gallons a day.
The demand charge Green Forest and the other three member cities pay to Carroll-Boone goes to pay debt service on the original bonds issued to build the water system, Yates explained.
If a member city such as Green Forest produces its own water, it still pays on the debt service.
The charge is figured by counting the amount of water it produces as though it were the amount it would use from Carroll-Boone and figuring that as a percentage of the total amount Carroll-Boone supplies to all the cities.
Deweese said last month's demand fee was a little more than $4,000 and asked whether debt service would ever be paid off.
CBWD Chairman James Yates explained that theoretically, in a growth environment, the bonds would never completely "go away" because future demand would necessitate issuing new bonds for new construction.
Epley explained the water district tries to retire bonds with a low interest rate and reissue ones with a higher interest rate.
Carroll-Boone is in the process of increasing its water draw from Beaver Lake in anticipation of future growth.
Epley suggested the engineers look at the situation with the treatment plant and the spring in Green Forest and report back. They agreed to do so.
In other business, CBWD: