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GREENLAND -- The discussion of what to do with the dam at Bella Vista Lake is part of a national trend concerning barriers in waterways.

There are about 87,000 dams in the National Inventory of Dams database, Brian Graber, American Rivers' River Restoration program's senior director, said Thursday. American Rivers is a national river conservation organization.

Upcoming Events

The Beaver Watershed Alliance has several events planned, including:

• Beaver Lake cleanup from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Prairie Creek near Rogers

• Forest management workshop from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 13 at Elkins Community Center

• Lake Sequoya cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 27 in Fayetteville

For more information, email [email protected] or call (479) 750-8007.

Source: Beaver Watershed Alliance

More than 1,470 dams have been removed, with 1,075 taken out since 1999. Last year saw a record 86 dams removed.

"And we're going to try to increase that number each year," Graber said.

Graber was one of seven presenters at the Beaver Watershed Alliance's day-long symposium focusing on dam removal and river restoration. A crowd of more than 50 engineers, biologists, environmentalists and interested residents participated in the event held in the Greenland Community Center.

Some dams have a purpose, Graber added, explaining 3 percent of the country's dams are used for hydropower and 14.6 percent are used for flood control.

"The challenge of these dams is that they're aging and pose a risk of failure," he said.

Reasons to remove dams include improving water recreation, enhancing wildlife habitat and increasing public safety. Yet, projects can be intimidating and the regulatory process can seem like a "black box maze," Graber said.

The simplest project takes about three years to complete, he said.

The project at Bella Vista Lake has been anything but simple. The dam stands despite the Association of State Dam Safety Officials' March 2008 declaration it was failed.

David Wright, Bentonville parks and recreation director, explained Thursday the process that's taken place between city officials, previous land owners and the public since April 2017. Bentonville owns the lake and surrounding land.

Two firms created plans for three options -- dam replacement, dam removal and stream restoration, and dam removal and the creation of a side channel lake adjacent the free-flowing stream. A task force recommended the hybrid option while the Parks Advisory Board recommended dam removal and stream restoration.

"So what's next?" Wright proffered. "The truth of it is, I stand before you today and I'm not real sure."

Wright explained the ambiguity of a conveyance agreement between the city and previous land owners that may still be binding.

"It's a heck of a predicament for the city to be in," he said. "My hope is that in the long run, that 132-acre park becomes something that serves residents for generations to come."

While the dam at Bella Vista Lake is a controversial project, the Arkansas Stream Heritage Partnership is working to identify and gain more information about other dams and water barriers statewide.

The state Stream Heritage Partnership, part of the Southeast Aquatic Resource Partnership, wants to improve and maintain watershed connectivity among the 14 states in the southeast region, said Darrell Bowman, director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, which is the parent organization of the state's Stream Heritage Partnership.

The Southeast Partnership is a regional collaboration of natural resource and science agencies, conservation organizations and private interests developed to strengthen the management and conservation of aquatic resources in the southeastern United States, according to its website.

The goal is to not only address dams but other barriers, such as low-water bridges and culverts, Bowman said.

Arkansas has 1,314 dams on the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission and National Inventory of Dams databases, he said, adding more have been discovered.

Officials are identifying and prioritizing which barriers should be removed. Dams that are obsolete, pose a safety hazard and could help reconnect the watershed if removed receive the highest priority, Bowman said.

Clell Ford, executive director of the Beaver Watershed Alliance, said dams are typically built for flood control, drinking water or recreation.

The dam at Lake Sequoyah and the Power Station dam on the West Fork White River were built to provide drinking water to Fayetteville. Neither serve that purpose anymore, Ford said.

The dam at War Eagle Mill has historical significance, so it's unlikely to disappear even though runs over it after heavy rain, he said.

The Beaver Lake Dam is an example of a dam with a purpose, as it does provide drinking water, recreational opportunities and flood control.

"We wouldn't be here if not for that dam," he said.

Beaver Lake Watershed is 1,192 square miles and includes all or parts of six counties, including Benton and Washington.

NW News on 09/21/2018

Print Headline: Dam removal, water restoration highlights symposium

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