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Regulations on drainage issues need updating, state planners told

by Doug Thompson | May 19, 2023 at 5:05 a.m.
In this Wednesday May 12 2021 file photo Benton County officials look at flood damage to Col. Meyers Road 100 yards north of Wager Road in Cave Springs. Tim Gehring with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management also inspected the flood damage, one of hundreds of damage sites he will assess in the next two weeks, to seek funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (NWA Democrat Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

WEST SILOAM SPRINGS, Okla. -- Local standards for managing water runoff need updating to handle the growth in Northwest Arkansas, state planners from Arkansas and Oklahoma were told Tuesday.

Those state planners do not have authority to regulate things like stormwater runoff, said organizers of a public forum held Thursday to update the Illinois River watershed management plan. Audience members acknowledged this but expressed doubts voluntary efforts could control flooding problems.

"The biggest issue is that whenever you bring up stormwater problems, the response always is 'we did it by the book' and the book is outdated terribly," said James Simpson of Cave Springs, a farmer who said his land suffers from flooding as land around it developed. Current construction standards for drainage issues cannot handle the runoff as Northwest Arkansas develops, he and others said. Every new housing subdivision or other development increases the runoff, he and others said.

Thursday's meeting was called by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Division and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The meeting took place at the Cherokee Hotel and Casino West Siloam Springs. The state planners expect to hold another such meeting in August and one more in November, but those times and places are not settled yet, organizers said. The Illinois River begins in Arkansas and flows through eastern Oklahoma.

Voluntary measures discussed included rain gardens, natural spaces with deep-rooted plants native to the region to soak up excess rain, and other solutions such as conservation easements to leave natural space.

"When you put a conservation easement in, you reduce the value of the land," said Grady Spann, executive director of the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. Less of the land can be developed, making it less attractive to potential buyers and developers.

Nonprofits don't have access to state taxpayer dollars, limiting the amount they can compensate landowners who want to put their land in a trust or easement, Spann said.

"The money has to come through a state agency," he said. "There are ways to do it, but it's really complicated."

He praised the state's Natural Heritage Commission for its efforts along those lines.

Other potential measures like forms of pavement that water can permeate are not being used in the region, said Morgan Keeling of Rogers, an independent consultant.

Residents often object to or complain about some of the efforts to leave largely untended natural spaces to help manage runoff, said Shannon Weathers of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, a nonprofit based in Cave Springs.

"They want them to look like golf courses," she said. An effective natural buffer zone will look scruffy for at least part of the year, she said.

Print Headline: Water regulations need updating, state planners told


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