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The word came down the other day to the city of Bethel Heights: No more new hookups from Springdale Water Utilities, which provides the service to the small bedroom community in south Benton County.

Springdale shut off the flow of new water hookups because Bethel Heights' over-extended sewer system is, once again, out of compliance with its state permit. It seems that problems like raw sewage pooling on the surface, treated water released with higher level of contaniments than allowed by its permit and failure to report those levels to the state continue. It's been an issue since 2013, according a newspaper report last week.

What’s the point: Continuing problems treating sewage in Bethel Heights raises questions about whether the city can or ever will solve its problems.

"Due to the noncompliance, the condition of the system and the negative impact to the environment, we cannot continue to add to the problem by allowing new users to further burden your already over-taxed system," Keith Ward, executive director of Springdale Water Utilities wrote to Bethel Heights Mayor Cynthia Black. "This is especially appropriate when we have been made aware that your system does not operate properly and cannot safely and properly dispose of additional wastewater."

Bethel Heights has been notified a number of times over the years that it needs to get its, well, act together at it's two treatment plants. But this is no laughing matter. Aside from the obvious health threats posed by these failures, the city's inability to address them in the past six years raises questions about whether they'll ever be fixed.

Over the years, the city has been warned repeatedly about compliance issues and fined once. In response, Bethel Heights provided plans to correct the issues, asked for more time, appeared to comply for a while and then fallen back out of compliance.

How chronic are these issues? The state agency responsible for regulating the sewer system, the Department of Environmental Quality, closed a case on Bethel Height on Jan. 27, 2017. By March 9 of the same year, a state inspection revealed it was already back out of compliance.

Finding out where things stand now is difficult because the mayor isn't commenting. Meanwhile, the issues continue.

This latest development will prevent anyone who plans to build a house in Bethel Heights and use the city's sewer system won't be able to get water service. Such a house won't be worth much without running water. Current customers and previously approved hookups will be allowed to go forward, but nothing new can be added. To end the moratorium, Bethel Heights must submit a plan within 90 days to address the issues.

Oh, great. Another plan.

Meanwhile, Northwest Arkansas' continuing growth will be bypassing Bethel Heights and heading to any number of other growing communities who seem to be able to provide basic serivces without a constant barage of warnings and citations from state agencies.

And speaking of the state, just exactly what should residents expect from the Department Environmental Quality? This has been going on six years and the same issues keep cropping up. It seems Bethel Heights isn't the only government agency that can't seem to accomplish a fairly important goal, which is a safe, clean municipal sewer system that complies with state law.

Commentary on 06/11/2019

Print Headline: Shutting off the tap

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