Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>Bayou Meto irrigation approved

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

With only minor changes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week approved the $555 million Bayou Meto Water Project, designed to pump millions of gallons of water a day from the Arkansas River primarily to irrigate crops on 300,000 acres of croplands in Lonoke, Prairie, Arkansas, Pulaski and Jefferson counties and for flood-control purposes.

Assistant Secretary of the Army John Paul Woodley Jr. last Monday signed a record of decision and announced that he had determined that the addition of agricultural water supply and waterfowl management components should be authorized in addition to the previously authorized flood control component of the Bayou Meto Basin Project, according to Gary Canada of England, chairman of the Bayou Meto Water Management District.

That means the project is now eligible to compete for federal funds, according to Gene Sullivan, project director.

The project should alleviate agricultural flooding, loss of environmental resources and irrigation water to alleviate the demand placed upon the ever-decreasing, subsurface aquifers.

We could build it in seven years, if we get the funding, Sullivan says.

That means that by 2015, six giant pumps just above Lock and Dam 6 near Scott could be sucking 1,750 cubic feet (13,090 gallons) of water a second or 47 million gallons of water per hour from the Arkansas River.

It would be diverted through a system of canals, pipes and ditches largely to the benefit of farmers in Lonoke, Jefferson and to a lesser degree, Prairie and Arkansas counties, but also to the benefit of thousands of acres of duck and wildlife habitat.
Sullivan had been hoping for about $25 million in construction funds for the ’08 fiscal year beginning in October, but Cong. Marion Berry, a long-time champion of the project, said Thursday that he didn’t expect construction money to be available until October 2009.

There is pretty much a moratorium on so-called “new-start” construction projects, Berry said.

He said there could be about $2.5 million available for additional engineering this year.

Of the $555 million price tag, the federal portion is $356 million, with another $199 million from the sale of water and a tax the farmers have assessed themselves, Sullivan said.

The first phase will include preparing a channel to bring the water from the river south of Scott, to the pumping plant where six huge pumps will lift it into a reservoir from which it will flow by gravity through a series of canals and pipes to farms throughout the region.

Work also would begin on the outlet pump to lift floodwater back into the river at the low end of the basin.

A second set of pumps, to be located where the Little Bayou Meto meets the Arkansas River Levee in Jefferson County, will be available for flood and habitat control, able to move 1,000 cu. ft. a second back into the river.

Sullivan said the project could be complete within seven years.

“This project has no enemies,” said Berry.

“That’s why it only took 20 years to authorize,” he said.

The Corps would construct a network including 465 miles of pipeline, 107 miles of new canals and tie into 132 miles of existing streams and ditches, moving water to the farms.

The on-farm part includes construction of ditches to collect runoff from farm fields, including the water they use to flood their rice fields. Water from those ditches would be pumped into large on-farm reservoirs.

From the reservoir, the farmers can direct the water, usually through underground pipes, to any of their fields.