More than 70 years ago, visionary community leaders got together to discuss the need for a long-term supply of clean, safe water for Northwest Arkansas. With an eye to the future and knowledge that a large lake was the best source of water, these citizens worked to establish Beaver Lake Reservoir. Shortly after World War II, the Beaver Dam Association formed to promote construction of a dam on the White River southwest of Eureka Springs. By 1954, progress had been made when the U.S. Congress finally authorized dam construction for flood control, hydroelectric power and other beneficial uses. However, the project could not move forward because the Corps of Engineers could not 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. 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. In the meantime, Arkansas legislators were busy as well. The Legislature in 1957 passed Act 114 which enabled the creation of nonprofit regional water distribution districts. In the case of Beaver Dam, that meant a water district would be formed to pay for water storage rights in Beaver Lake and, just as important, to pay for building and operating a water intake and water treatment facilities. On August 27, 1959, a circuit court order officially established Beaver Water District. The District executed agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for storage of water supply in Beaver Lake sufficient to provide 120 million gallons a day (mgd) average. The District also executed agreements with Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale to pay for storage rights and supply drinking water. In 1963, while in Boston recuperating from eye surgery, founding Beaver Water District board member Joe M. Steele of Springdale received an urgent phone call alerting him of an immediate need for a $700,000 local match the federal government required to underwrite construction of a new water plant. Steele personally guaranteed the loan so the project could move forward. The new water plant was initially built and operated by the Springdale Water and Sewer Department, of which Steele was chairman. The water treatment facility, which is named in Steele’s honor, was later turned over to the Beaver Water District at cost as other cities came online. The story of how these leaders pulled together to make abundant and economical drinking water supplies a reality in Northwest Arkansas is one worth remembering and celebrating. (Read this for more information: Development of Municipal Water Supplies for Benton and Washington Counties, Arkansas.)
While many of us today take water for granted, the leaders who formed this District and envisioned the future knew better. They understood that water is precious. Clean drinking water ensures the continued health of the population of a region. Abundant, accessible water also ensures the economic vitality of a community. From the beginning, the District has recognized the need to expand facilities to keep up with increased water demand and stricter drinking water standards. In addition to Beaver Water District, three other water utilities provide drinking water from Beaver Lake.