BV council hears funding proposal from Beaver Watershed Alliance

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

John Pennington of the Beaver Watershed Alliance presented a proposal for sustainable funding for regional water source protection to the Berryville City Council at its May 17 meeting.

The major long-term issue for the water supply is sediment and phosphorous, Pennington said. About 160,000 tons of sediment goes into Beaver Lake from the steam banks each year, Pennington explained, and each ton of sediment contains about a pound of phosphorous.

"That's about 160,000 pounds of phosphorous that goes into the lake," he said.

The sediment also grows algae, Pennington said, which can interact with chlorine and leave disinfection byproducts in the water supply. In order to meet treatment standards, water utility companies have to remove the sediment and algae.

"To meet those standards, sometimes you have to upgrade your facility with gray infrastructure like concrete, metal and membranes," Pennington said.

The Northwest Arkansas Council, the Walton Family Foundation and stakeholders from Carroll, Madison, Benton and Washington counties designed the Beaver Lake Protection Strategy, he said, to combat the issue of sediment and phosphorous in the water supply. Pennington said the strategy suggests that the Beaver Lake Water District needs a $40 million upgrade. He said the Carroll-Boone Water District and Madison County represent 25 percent of the entire Beaver Lake Watershed.

"It is one of the highest-priority areas to manage because it's so close to development," Pennington said. "Issues on the lakeside can hit a utility pretty hard and pretty quick."

He said that people traditionally think of an entire area draining into a common body of water when they think of watershed management.

"You would think when you're managing everything that's going into the lake you would have a good quality water supply, but that's only true if you can manage the area around the lake as well," Pennington said.

The Beaver Lake Protection Strategy, he said, will reduce the average annual load increase of the lake, which is 2,000 tons of sediment and 2,000 pounds of phosphorous, by investing in natural infrastructure rather than gray infrastructure to manage the land around the lake.

"This would allow utilities to have a good source of water quality before they have to treat it," Pennington said, "instead of gray infrastructure treating a degraded water quality supply."

The Beaver Water District recently incorporated a four-cent per 1,000 gallons water source protection rate to invest in the strategy, he said. The district had consultants conduct studies on the financial effects of implementing the strategy, Pennington said, and determined there would be at least a $17 million benefit over a 30-year period of time.

"That's just with things that could be qualified. It doesn't include all the preventative costs that could be avoided," he said. "It increases the savings to the water utility, and that's similar for any of the water utilities around the lake."

Pennington said the studies show that investing in the landscape generates up to $27 for every dollar invested.

"If you can have a nice environment and water supply as well, that's a win-win for the region," he said.

The cost of the plan is $500 million in total, Pennington said, not including the costs of forest management and other issues that could arise in the future.

"We're really looking at about a $1 billion cost. The trick to remember is this isn't forever," he said.

Pennington said the project will take about three and a half decades. The ability to accomplish this strategy, he said, is within the region's reach.

He said he has spoken with all of the water utility boards around the lake and will speak to Madison County in June and the Two-Ton Water District, which serves Benton and Washington counties, in July.

Pennington said the Carroll-Boone board preferred he visit with the city councils and mayors in the area to discuss any concerns and issues.

"What I need to move forward either way is a resolution of support for the concept of investing in natural infrastructure," he said.

Mayor Tim McKinney asked if the council could present a letter to the Carroll-Boone board if they felt this was the direction to go instead of submitting a formal resolution. Pennington said he thought that would work.

"I agree with this concept even if it's something I don't understand completely," McKinney said, "but if Carroll-Boone says this is not a good investment then I'm going to leave that up to them."

Council member Cindy George recommended that the council schedule a time to go over the details of the proposed strategy.

The council agreed and scheduled the discussion for its meeting on June 6.

McKinney told Pennington that the council would look over the strategy and contact him with any questions.

"We'll pass our decision on to Carroll-Boone afterwards," McKinney said.

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