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What is it they say rolls downhill?

Welcome to Bethel Heights.

What’s the point?

We applaud Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith’s pressure on Bethel Heights to resolve the sewage treatment problems cited by the state of Arkansas.

Truth be told, a lot rolls downhill. Water certainly does, which is why the work of keeping pollutants off the lands of Northwest Arkansas is so important. What is on the land will, eventually, make its way into the drainage systems of a watershed. Litter, herbicides, fertilizers -- they all contaminate the water that flows past.

And then there's sewage, the collected byproduct of the human attraction to live in community. Technologically speaking, we've come a long way in the capacity to treat sewage, so much so that we actually discharge what flows out of municipal sewage treatment plants into bodies of water that also serve as drinking supplies for either our own cities or someone's else's community downstream.

The whole idea of a sewage treatment system is to avoid dumping pollutants on ourselves or our neighbors.

The Arkansas Department of Environment Quality, the state agency responsible for monitoring how cities do when it comes to discharges into waterways, says the Benton County town of Bethel Heights has a serious problem.

The state asserts Bethel Heights' treatment systems have been inadequately processing sewage and allowing contaminated liquids to run onto a neighboring privately owned piece of property.

The city, under the leadership of Mayor Cynthia Black, not too long ago posted a denial on the city website. The city has denied the state's claims, blaming nearby livestock operations for the pollution.

What do they say about something hitting the fan?

It seems that might have happened a little more than a week ago, when Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith got involved. He addressed a letter to Black after he reviewed documentation by the Department of Environmental Quality. The letter told Black she was in violation of state law by allowing water or air pollution that can adversely affect human health, animal or plant life or property.

That means possible criminal liability that could lead to up to five years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine, according to Smith's letter.

Smith gave Bethel Heights 30 days to start fixing its sewer system as well as cleaning up the system's and neighbor's properties.

Black has been extremely limited in public response to what is a governing crisis for the Benton County town, so the public should welcome Smith's involvement. If prosecutorial pressure moves the city to act responsibility, that should be a win for everyone.

But if Black and the city feel they can prove their contention that they're on the right side of this, we suppose they're welcome to take Smith and the Department of Environmental Quality on. Let them prove their implausible stance that the treatment plant has nothing to do with the pollution.

One way or the other, the truth needs to come out and the pollution needs to end.

Last week, the state ordered Bethel Heights to remove wastewater by truck from its treatment plan seven days a week, which involves taking the sewage to a different sewer system and paying for treatment there. Then the city offered a plan for hauling it two days a week, and less of it in total. Now, the state agency is reviewing the city's plan.

The most realistic long-term fix for the city's sewage treatment plant woes appears to mirror the solution some other smaller cities have implemented: Tie into a larger city's sewage treatment plant by building a pipeline. We suspect a small town like Bethel Heights will find that's the most feasible option to its sewage treatment woes.

Will it be costly? Yes, but the alternative cannot be sacrificing the environment.

Commentary on 08/12/2019

Print Headline: It's getting deep

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