Northwest Arkansas residents should be able to rely on an abundant water supply for years to come as local governments and water suppliers constantly update plans to handle the area's growth.
"Water is the key to everything," according to Rob Smith, communications director for the Northwest Arkansas Council. "We're growing at a rate of 27 people a day, and that's going to mean more housing, more industry, more businesses. Having a reliable source of water is the key to all that."
Smith said water infrastructure is recognized as a crucial element of growth nationwide. He pointed to a study done for the Washington, D.C., area the council is eyeing as a model for a similar study for Northwest Arkansas.
Phil Mendelson, chairman of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said planning for the future is vital.
"Infrastructure is usually under-appreciated until something goes wrong," Mendelson wrote in the study. "We want transportation to run smoothly, electricity and natural gas to turn on when we flip the switch, water to flow when we turn on the tap, clear communications in an emergency, and first-class public buildings."
Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said Northwest Arkansas' growth presents challenges in areas including water and sewer infrastructure, housing and transportation. He said water suppliers have done a good job of estimating the growth and planning for it.
"Water is probably in better shape than anything," Hawkins said.
Population estimates published each March by the U.S. Census Bureau identify the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area as one of the nation's fastest-growing regions. The area includes Benton, Washington and Madison counties and McDonald County, Mo.
The population increased about 27 people a day from the April 2010 Census to July 2016, according to a report from the Northwest Arkansas Council. The population was near 525,000 in July 2016, and it's now likely to be near 536,000. Hawkins said Benton and Washington counties are expected to keep growing, with projections showing 802,000 residents by 2040.
With that kind of growth, it's important that planning be done well in advance, according to Larry Lloyd, chief operating officer for the Beaver Water District.
"If we see a need, for example, for a treatment plant expansion, we know we've got to have the preliminary engineering and design work done," Lloyd said. "We have to plan for construction and financing. A project that substantial we probably need from six to 10 years lead time. So, if I know I'm going to need something like that I'd really better be starting 10 years before the need will be here."
Lloyd said the water district has a plan for more than 20 years into the future. Adopted in 2015, the plan lists $154.9 million of capital improvement, from new intake pumps and pump replacements to a 40 million gallon per day treatment plant expansion in 2031, a planned western corridor main in 2031 and a western corridor pump station in 2032. A raw water main is planned for 2036.
BUILDING A SYSTEM
The history of the Beaver Water District stretches back more than 50 years, with a group of Rogers businessmen promoting the idea of a dam on the White River as early as the 1930s, according to information from the district's website. Before the development of Beaver Lake and the water district, cities relied on springs, wells, small lakes and other local water sources.
District history shows the Beaver Dam Association formed shortly after World War II to promote construction on the White River southwest of Eureka Springs. Congress authorized a dam for flood control, hydroelectric power and other uses by 1954, but the project didn't move forward because the Corps of Engineers couldn't demonstrate a sufficient cost-benefit ratio based on these uses.
"That's when Arkansas' congressional delegation took decisive action that would change Northwest Arkansas history. These forward-thinking leaders pushed for a national Water Supply Act which would include municipal water supply as a beneficial use," according to district history. "Finally, in 1958, this historic act recognized that the federal government needed to play a role in the development of water supplies. With the stroke of a pen, reauthorization of the construction of Beaver Dam had been accomplished, with the understanding that local interests would pay the costs associated with additional storage in the lake for drinking water."
The state Legislature in 1957 passed Act 114, which created nonprofit regional water distribution districts, and on Aug. 27, 1959, a circuit court order officially established Beaver Water District.
According to the district, Springdale made the first connection to Beaver Lake. The city proposed to Beaver Water District in 1963 that it be allowed to construct a raw waterline and water treatment plant and install raw water pumps in the district's intake structure to supply water to the city.
However, the provision was made that when the district was ready to provide water to other cities in the area, the facilities would be transferred to the district. Construction was started in 1964, completed in mid-1966, and Springdale started taking water from Beaver Reservoir.
Beaver Water District sells treated, ready-to-drink tap water to Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, which supplies the water to more than 330,000 customers, according to city data on the district website as of Sept. 29, 2016.
The average daily demand from the four cities was about 15 million gallons in 1973. That demand is now 51 million gallons, and a peak day in the summer could reach 90 million gallons. The daily pumping capacity at the district's intake at the lake is 150 million gallons, and the water treatment capacity is 140 million gallons.
The region's second major provider of drinking water is the Benton/Washington Regional Public Water Authority, more commonly referred to as Two-Ton. The authority's customers purchased 2.3 billion gallons through the first nine months of 2017, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council.
The authority serves 16 rural water providers and small cities, including Centerton and other communities in western Benton County. Peak consumption was near 24 million gallons a day this year, and the daily average was near 9.5 million gallons. Its Beaver Lake plant can deliver 40 million gallons to customers if necessary, according to the council's report.
The four largest cities all have plans. Rogers and Springdale's are about a year old, and Fayetteville and Bentonville are updating their plans.
Earl Raush with the Rogers Water Utilities said the rapid growth of the area makes planning a challenge. While 20-year plans are common, he said, Northwest Arkansas cities need frequent updates.
"If I were in Ozark, Ark., and I had a 20-year plan, I'd probably be happy," Raush said. "With the growth of Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale and Fayetteville we probably need to redo our plans every five years. This is such an active community. You can point to where you think growth is going to happen, but you never know. You may be surprised by growth somewhere else. Every five years is probably a good time to do a review."
Heath Ward with the Springdale Water Utilities agreed and said Springdale will be on a five-year cycle, updating the master plan adopted in 2015 sometime in 2019. He said the city also tries to maintain a 25-year "horizon" for planning its needs.
"We're focused on the five years, and then we're making adjustments," Ward said. "Beyond that it's just a 'best guess' anyhow."
Metro on 12/19/2017
Print Headline: NW Arkansas water needs set for years