Prairie Grove students works on Muddy Fork erosion

Posted: July 27, 2017 at 1:05 a.m.

LYNN KUTTER ENTERPRISE-LEADER Tracie Ashley, facilitator for Prairie Grove Middle School EAST program, and Robin Gregory with Illinois River Watershed Partnership, stand with students who will be involved in a project to monitor and improve the water quality of the Muddy Fork Branch of the Illinois River.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- Muddy Fork Branch of the Illinois River runs through part of the city and a group of seventh- and eighth-graders from Prairie Grove Middle School hope to improve its water quality and protect the land along its banks.

"We are hoping to achieve pure drinking water and fix any erosion problems so it will have the best water quality," said seventh-grader Luke Stuck.

The middle school's Environmental and Spatial Technology class received a $10,000 Beyond the Bell grant from the EAST Initiative and Arkansas Department of Education for its project called "A River Runs Through it: Preserving the Water Quality and Protecting the Land along the Muddy Fork River."

The grant program is called Beyond the Bell because students and sponsors aren't allowed to work on the project during school hours.

During the course of the project, students will be involved in lots of research and hands-on activities, according to Tracie Ashley, class facilitator.

They will take water samples to identify water and soil contaminants, clean the river of debris, kayak the river to find areas of erosion and determine actions to prevent and decrease erosion along the bank of the river.

The students, called the Stream Team, will use the grant money to buy a drone to see an overview of the river, a GoPro camera to use while kayaking and other issues along the river and a videocamera. The grant requires students to create a documentary video about the project.

A key part of the grant is working with community partners. In this case, community partners include Illinois River Watershed Partnership, U.S. Geological Survey, Prairie Grove, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Army Corps of Engineers and Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies with the University of Arkansas.

Students already have met with some partners.

They attended a training session earlier this year with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies to look at erosion rates along the Muddy Fork. One section of the river with extreme erosion is in the city's land that will become Muddy Fork Park. Students in particular want to concentrate on ways to improve the health of that section.

"Erosion is a big problem on the river where the park is," Larry Oelrich with the city of Prairie Grove told students during a meeting at City Hall.

Part of the problem, Oelrich said, is beaver activity. Another is trees and debris in the river divert water, causing it to erode river banks.

The students' effort to improve the quality could accomplish one major goal, Ashley said. The Muddy Fork is named on the 303D Endangered Rivers List and students would like to help get it off the list.

Oelrich said the listing is considered minor and of low priority. The last listing from 2014 was because of eroded areas along the river.

The concern, Oelrich said, is if the Muddy Fork was added to another list, the city would be held to a new, higher standard, which in turn could increase the cost to treat its drinking water by millions of dollars.

Oelrich said the city also is concerned about storm water runoff and drainage from farming along the Muddy Fork. He would like to see riparian boundaries along the banks of the river to protect the water from contaminants and prevent erosion.

The Muddy Fork Branch has some of the most classic examples of erosion, Oelrich said.

"It's pretty bad," he added.

Ashley told her students, "It looks like erosion is the theme for this project."

NW News on 07/27/2017