Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TOP STORY>> Committee hearing on water rights

IN SHORT>> Despite an intensive lobbying effort and full-page ads in the statewide daily, Deltic Timber’s effort to win legislation enabling it to build 170 pricey homes uphill from the Lake Maumelle reservoir could die in a Wednesday morning meeting.

Leader staff writer

Deltic Timber already faces “an uphill battle” to get its Senate Bill 230 out of the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning, according to the committee chairman, Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville.

About 200 people gathered Tuesday on the state Capitol steps in a lunchtime rally against the bill.

Now, in a review released Monday, consulting engineers have concluded that the Lake Maumelle land Deltic wants to develop is too steep and the soils too erosive and too impermeable to adequately protect that important drinking water reservoir from erosion, silt and chemical runoff.

And a state Health Department review finds the Deltic proposal deeply flawed.

Central Arkansas Water provides drinking water to Sherwood, Jacksonville, Gravel Ridge and Cabot, as well as Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Deltic wants to build about 170 lake-view homes—The Ridges at Nowlin Creek—uphill from the lake, near the intake structures for the water treatment plant.

Central Arkansas Water (CAW) retained Geo-Syntec Consultants to assess the proposed development.

In a proposed “stewardship agreement,” Deltic plans to use low-impact development (LID) storm-water management to keep polluting runoff out of the lake, but GeoSyntec says it probably won’t work.

“There are no known LID residential developments in the U.S. designed to protect water quality,” wrote Steven P. Roy, author of the report. “Such a development in this setting with steep slopes and erosive soils will very likely result in sediment and nutrient impacts in the lake.”

Because CAW opposes the plan, Deltic slipped through the Senate a bill that would strip CAW—alone among all water districts—of its authority to regulate the land, including the authority to condemn land by right of eminent domain and buy it.
But public opinion, public officials throughout the area, environmentalists and others have spoken out against the bill and the development in a number of public settings, most recently at the Tuesday rally.

The Deltic bill would transfer regulatory authority from CAW, substituting a stewardship agreement between Deltic and the Arkansas Soil and Water Commission.

The state Health Department finds the plan “fundamentally flawed,” according to a report made available by Harold Seifort, director of the department’s engineering division.

Neither the commission nor the developer has legal responsibility for or experience with complying with federal drinking water regulations, according to the state Health Department. The stewardship agreement wouldn’t even require input from CAW or the Health Department.

“This entire approach does not take into account the cumulative impact of even minimal changes in runoff water quality,” the report said.

Deltic’s consultant, Dr. Mun-sell McPhillips, “could not identify a similar development, in existence for a sufficient period of time (10-15 years), where such a stewardship plan overseen by a developer/property owner’s association and a state agency was shown to be effective in preventing water quality degradation of a public water source,” the health department report said.

The Health Department report concludes that E. coli, total organic carbon and other potential problems, including pesticides and herbicides, wouldn’t be sufficiently monitored.

Finally, it concludes that CAW’s recourse under the stewardship plan is weak and potentially ineffective—particularly where water quality degradation results in major capital expenses for water treatment.

Similarly, GeoSyntec finds Deltic’s plans vague and unconvincing.

“The Deltic report…is missing detailed plans and specifications against which to evaluate claims and expectations,” according to GeoSyntec.

Deltic’s report lacks detailed plans and specifications, a drainage calculation package, a storm-water pollution prevention plan, or a storm-water discharge permit.

Instead of traditional storm-water control structures, which are expensive and not very suitable for this lake view development, Deltic proposed to use Low Impact Development designs and storm water controls to lessen the development’s impact on the lake, according to Roy, who specializes in water resources management, storm-water management and environmental impacts from land use activities. A 2004 study by the Cadmus Group found the low permeability of the soils and slopes greater than 15 percent to be “significant impediments” to the LID management Deltic proposed.

Roy also found Deltic’s proposal to lack virtually all specifics and data necessary to evaluate the suitability of its LID management.

“The report is conceptual only and does not provide sufficient documentation, engineering design and stormwater calculations to prepare an evaluation on whether the development can mimic pre-development runoff conditions.”

Roy said Deltic provided no details on specific LID controls, their location, the amount of drainage area and the volume of runoff they would receive, the amount of drainage that would bypass LID features, sizing and design criteria, water quality and quantity performance standards and contingencies for operational failure of LID controls.

Roy’s report concludes that Deltic didn’t document the experience of its engineers in LID design and doesn’t support its claim that the project would not present a water quality threat to Lake Maumelle.