Legislators call for funding of proposed Three Rivers Study

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

SOUTHEAST ARKANSAS -- Although the White River is one in a confluence of three rivers proposed to be studied in terms of flooding issues, the portion of the White that flows through Carroll County is unlikely to be affected, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said this week.

On March 21, several state legislators, including Rep. Steve Womack and Sen. John Boozman, signed a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo Ellen Darcy in support of the proposed Three Rivers Study. The study area is the confluence of the Arkansas, Mississippi and White rivers, where the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System begins. The MKARNS system of locks and dams overcomes a 420-foot difference in river elevations between the Mississippi and the Port of Catoosa at Tulsa, Okla. The total system is 455 miles long and allows for commercial barge and other trade traffic.

The purpose of the study, expected to cost about $100,000, is to determine potential solutions to flooding impacts at the confluence, located in the Arkansas Post area, specifically between miles 3 and 8 on the White River, that threaten the navigation system, as well as more than 100,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods, thousands of acres of wetlands and numerous protected and endangered species.

The area is under threat of a "breach," said Patricia Anslow, chief of the Corp's Planning and Environmental Division.

"What we're observing is that during rain events with flooding between two river systems, sometimes more water is being carried on the White River at a higher elevation than the Arkansas River, so instead of staying in channel it flows across the land surface and works its way toward the Arkansas River," she said. "When this happens you get what's known as 'head cutting,' or the land surface on the Arkansas River side tends to eat away toward the White River. When the water subsides you get a land cut. If this continues over time, the two river systems could merge together," adding that that is what is meant by a "breach."

She said there is a levee built when the MKARNS was constructed in 1971.

"The MKARNS is responsible for $1.5 billion to $3 billion in trade transportation in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas each year, not to mention the positive indirect economic impacts on the local economies," legislators wrote. "In addition, 42 countries have traded commerce with the Arkansas River Basin Region via the MKARNS. The MKARNS is also responsible for over $3.5 billion in industrial investments and provides flood protection, hydropower, water supply, and recreation benefits."

Legislators said should a breach occur, "navigation could be impacted for more than 100 days and the economic impact could easily exceed $300 million..."

Anslow said the levee, or "containment structure," is still in place, but it is threatened, as cuts have occurred along it from flooding.

"We continue to repair the levee as the damage occurs, but there are flood events that overtop the levee," she said, adding that potential replacement of the levee would be part of the study.

Funds for the study would have to be appropriated through Congress, she said, and it was not in the president's budget last year.

As far as how this might affect Carroll County, Anslow said, "We don't have a good grasp of how far upstream it would go, but at this point none of our analysis has led us to believe it would greatly impact anything in Carroll County."

Nevertheless, Carroll County has not been immune to problems from the White River flooding. Since 2008, floodwaters have forced the closure of the Beaver Bridge and RV Park more than once for months at a time and destroyed and damaged homes below Beaver Dam.

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