West Fork White River Success Story

By: Jarrod Phillips and James McCarty

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division recently announced that water quality improvement efforts on the West Fork White River have resulted in the river’s removal from the state’s impaired waterbodies list. The list of impaired waterbodies, or 303(d) list, is updated every two years by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. The list contains information on the rivers and lakes of Arkansas as it relates to their specific designated uses, such as supporting aquatic life or recreation. For example, if a water body has drinking water supply as a designated use and the water quality degrades to the point where producing drinking water is made more difficult, then the water body would be considered impaired. There are many water bodies on the state’s impaired waterbodies list, and more are added each year, but it is a rare occurrence for them to be removed due to water quality improvement. It is so rare that the Environmental Protection Agency celebrates each one with a Nonpoint Source Success Story. There have only been seven in the entire state since 2009.

Beaver Water District’s core mission is to provide the highest quality drinking water at the lowest possible cost. One of the leading areas of focus in achieving that goal is the protection and preservation of our source waters. The West Fork White River along with the Middle and East Fork White Rivers are among the major tributaries to the upper portion of Beaver Lake. A total of 27.2 miles of the West Fork White River has been impaired since 1998 due to high levels of sediment and turbidity from streambank erosion and excessive runoff. With the significant loss of vegetated stream buffers, streambank instability and erosion become more likely. The increases in suspended sediment downstream can then pose a significant risk to surface water intakes.

Matthew Rich presented the 2022 results from Secchi Day data collected in August during the Beaver Lake Volunteer Day on October 22. The Winter issue of The Source will highlight the findings.

Erosion and sediment are the leading source and cause of water quality pollution in Arkansas and across the nation. However, as of 2018, the uppermost 16.5 miles of the river met the state’s water quality criterion for the first time in 20 years thanks to the joint efforts of various stakeholders within our watershed. Here at the District, we understand the importance of collaboration and partnership, and without the impassioned efforts of those with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Watershed Conservation Resources Center, Beaver Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Water Resources Center, and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division, this would not have been possible. Beaver Lake serves close to 1 in 5 Arkansans with drinking water and is in one of the most rapidly developing regions in the nation. With increased development comes an ever-increasing pressure on our natural resources and the ecosystems that we rely on to maintain the high quality of life we are accustomed to here in Northwest Arkansas. This further highlights the significance of achieving the necessary water quality standards to see this segment of the West Fork White River removed from the impaired water bodies list. As we move into the future, the focus on source water protection and collaborative partnerships will require increasing consideration, and we here at Beaver Water District as well as the rest of the conservation community in Northwest Arkansas are well-positioned to rise to the challenge.

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