Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>A deal seen on getting new water

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

If negotiations continue the way they are going, members of the Lonoke White Public Water Authority will eventually get permission to take the water they need from Greers Ferry Lake, but exactly how they will pay for that water remains unknown.

Members know they can borrow the money to build the project that is expected to cost about $60 million, but they hope they also qualify for some grant money. There is also talk that Central Arkansas Water (CAW), which formed when the water departments in Little Rock and North Little Rock merged, might be willing to help build the line to secure water they will need in about 40 years. In the meantime, the members of Lonoke White are trying to get at least half of the lake water allocation, enough to take care of their needs now and for several years to come.

How much water can be taken from the lake is determined by the United States Congress and administered by the Corps of Engineers. Currently, the allocation is 15 million gallons a day. Early talk about the allocation made it appear that every city and water association that needed that water would ask for more than its fair share. But after a recent meeting in Little Rock, it appears the water allocation could be divided so that everyone who needs water will get it.

The meeting was for members of the Mid Arkansas Water Alliance (MAWA) members north of the Arkansas River – those who would reasonably be expected to eventually get at least part of their water from Greers Ferry Lake. Of that group, many were also members of the Lonoke White Public Water Authority, which as an entity is not a member of MAWA.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke, whose city needs the water now, has been a strong proponent of the Lonoke White Project, which has been in development for about 15 years.

Its current members include Ward, Bayou Two, Grand Prairie, Austin, Lonoke, McRae, Beebe, North Pulaski Water Association, Cabot and Jacksonville. Some, like Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski, are also working with CAW to secure a long-term source of water.

Cabot and Jacksonville were frankly brought into the Lonoke White Public Water Authority because their large customer bases would give the organization the clout needed to ask for a larger allocation. But when the Lonoke White Water Authority met recently with MAWA, which secured the allocation for dividing among its members, they met as individuals and still they will likely get most of the 7.5 million gallons a day they are asking for. Although the allocations for the cities and water associations are not set in stone, Brooke said this week that he is happy with the turn the negotiations have taken. “The good thing is we’re all working together,” he said. “We’re going to end up getting the water we need.”

The group is expected to meet again early this month to fine tune the allocations, but for now, these are the numbers: Cabot and Jacksonville, 1.5 million gallons a day; Ward, Lonoke, Bayou Two Water Association, North Pulaski Water Association and Grand Prairie, .9 million gallons a day.

The other members of the Lonoke White Public Water Authority are not asking for allocations. Financing the Lonoke White Project remains the biggest question. The project has been engineered. The rights-of-way and intake site have been purchased.

The plan is to build the intake facility and lay a 30-inch line to bring the water to its customers. If CAW will need some of that water by 2050, now would be the time to consider helping lay a larger line, Brooke said. “While we’re in the construction phase would be a good time for them to get on the bandwagon,” he said.