Leader Blues

Friday, January 12, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot fears state might pull plug on cheap water

IN SHORT: City is concerned that if it asks for permission to increase production it might be told to shut down the wells because of falling aquifers.

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A well field located between Beebe and Lonoke currently supplies Cabot with inexpensive water, and the commission that now runs water and wastewater would like to keep it that way for many years to come.

But recently uncovered information has the members worried that when they ask the state for permission to increase production, the answer could not only be “no” but “no and hurry up and shut the wells down.”

The Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission has searched for almost two years for documentation that the city is obligated to pull out of the well field by 2010 as the neighbors of the well field were told by city leaders eight years ago.

Finding none, they went forward with a study by the United States Geological Survey to hopefully show that the aquifer where the wells are located is not being drawn down to an unacceptable level. The current state permit to take water from the aquifer is for three million gallons a day, which is inadequate especially in the summer. The results of the USGS study are expected soon, but meanwhile Bill Cypert, commission secretary, has taken a closer look at the state permit to take water from the aquifer and discovered the documentation that had eluded them.

While the permit does not specify a year when the city is required to pull out of the well field it does clearly say the well field was intended an interim water source until the Lonoke/White Water Project is completed.

That project failed because Cabot pulled out. It has recently been revived by many of the old participants and some new ones who hope to build a water line from Greers Ferry Lake to supply their needs and possibly sell to Central Arkansas Water.

Cabot left the project about five years ago in favor of buying water long term from CAW. Tad Bohannon, the commission’s legal counsel, told the commission Thursday night that the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (formerly Soil and Water) which issued the permit, would likely see little difference between connecting to CAW and connecting to Greers Ferry Lake through the Lonoke/White Project.

Either way, the city well field was supposed to be operating on an interim basis until another source was available.
The longer Cabot can produce its own water, the more money can be saved toward the $32 million estimated cost of connecting to CAW, which will supply the city with water in the future.

Ideally, the commission would like to keep using the wells for the next 43 years and pump as much as 8 million gallons a day. But realistically, the treatment plant and water lines are only capable of producing about 6 million gallons a day, so the commission is hoping to stay in the fields until the system reaches capacity in 2020.

Tim Joyner, general manager of Cabot WaterWorks, said the commission has met twice with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and he is hopeful that Cabot will be allowed to keep pumping water.

“They understand completely where we’re coming from,” Joyner said. “We need to pump as much water as we can for as long as we can to offset this cost.”

Joyner said Cabot will still connect to CAW even if the state gives permission to stay in the well field. But by purchasing the least amount allowable under the contract with CAW and continuing to pump water from the wells, Cabot would have to borrow less to pay for the connection.