Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

TOP STORY >>Water projects would help area

Leader staff writer

This area will get plenty of water from three lakes in the near future: Lake Maumelle, Greers Ferry Lake and Lake Winona in Saline County.

The cities and water associations in central Arkansas that share a 15 million-gallon-a-day water allocation from Greers Ferry Lake are considering banding together to build the long talked- about Lonoke White Water Project.

To build the project would require all the separate utilities coming together as a consolidated waterworks system.

In addition to the current members of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, which includes Cabot, Lonoke, Ward, Grand Prairie Water Association and Bayou Two Water Association, the membership would likely include Jacksonville, Conway Corporation, Conway County Regional Water Distribution District, Central Arkansas Water and Community Water System, which once controlled the project.

The Lonoke-White Project got its start about 15 years ago, when Community Water System, which operated around Greers Ferry Lake, decided to increase its customer base by supplying water to cities like Cabot and Beebe, which pulled out early but has since rejoined. Back then, grants were supposed to pay for part of the project while loans would pay for the balance. Community Water was to own the system, but the debt was to be repaid by revenue from the new customers who were to have been under exclusive contracts with Community Water.

When the grant money dried up and Cabot pulled out in favor of buying surface water from Central Arkansas Water, the project faltered.

Those who were left said the rates Community Water would have to charge to pay the debt were higher than they had contracted to pay.

Eventually Grand Prairie and Bayou Two sued Community Water for control of the project which they maintained belonged to its members, not Community Water. The case was settled this year with Lonoke-White members owning the right-of-way for a water line and a share of the intake site at Cove Creek.

Now, the project members must find investors and build the project within 11 years or ownership of the intake site reverts to Community Water. The cost of the project has been estimated at $60 million to $100 million depending upon the number of participants.

Grand Prairie Water Association, which sells Ward some of the water for its customers, is also working against another deadline.

That utility was granted an increase until 2027 in the amount of water pulled from its wells from 1.4 million gallons a day to 2.4 million gallons a day.

Terry House, Grand Prairie general manager, said Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which has regulatory authority over ground water, is serious about preserving that resource. Cities and water associations have no choice about finding surface water, he said, and the more participants in the Lonoke—White Project, the less it will cost water customers.

“All of us are going to have to ante up some money,” House said. “And it’s cheaper now than it will be later.

“Right now no one is being excluded because we all need the water,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski Waterworks are working with Central Arkansas Water on a project that will cost $43 million to bring water from Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona to Gravel Ridge where it will be disbursed to their systems.

From Gravel Ridge, Cabot will then run lines capable of carrying 9 million gallons of that water a day to its system at a cost of $11.3 million more.

Although the connection to Central Arkansas Water is expected to suffice until 2050, a line from Greers Ferry Lake would be a backup for the line from Central Arkansas Water.

Cabot and Jacksonville have allocations of 1.5 million gallons a day each at Greers Ferry Lake compared to the .9 million gallons a day set aside for Lonoke, Ward, North Pulaski, Grand Prarie and Bayou Two. Conway Corp. and Conway County Regional Water Distribution District each received half of the remaining 7.5 million gallons-a-day allocation.

When the Lonoke—White Project will be built is not known. The members try to meet once a month to discuss the project and House said he is optimistic that some progress will be made within two years.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke, president of the group and host of the monthly meetings in Ward, said this week that he is more hopeful about the project than he has been in the past because of the cooperation he sees among various entities that need the water.

“The greater numbers we have the better off we are,” Brooke said. “We want everything to be affordable. If we did the project with just Lonoke—White members, we know the cost would be too high.”