Story Date: Friday, July 14, 20069 (Russellville Newspapers, Inc.)

Piping sewage to Dardanelle

Beginning as a small Cherokee settlement aside Arkansas River, Dardanelle folks long valued the stream as a remarkable resource and have built city parks and recreation facilities around its floodplain functions. 
This appreciation though is noticeably not shared by Russellville leaders or their water utility City Corp. who continue an eight-year effort to lower SEWAGE treatment levels and shift their Whig Creek outfall through a pipe to the river opposite Dardanelle City Hall, Veterans-Riverside Park, boat launching ramp and the city's most productive municipal water well.

Thirty years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to protect all kinds of water with numerical and narrative standards for drinking water, SEWAGE disposal and other waters. During powerhouse shutdowns, allowed for up to 50 hours duration, the proposed outfall "mixing zone" would become a concentrated dead water treated SEWAGE area that, past tests show, supplies recharge to Dardanelle's municipal water wells. The most productive well sits near the ramp inside the park directly across the river opposite the proposed outfall site.

This water quality controversy is more than just a Russellville vs. Dardanelle matter. Much of this water also goes to rural Yell County areas and up Highway 22 to Logan County. Last year, these wells provided more than 39 million gallons to Northeast Yell County Association, and this rate has been reached already half-way through 2006. The "tail may be wagging the dog," but Russellville tinkering with water quality is a multi-county regional issue.

In a May 2002, good-faith effort to resolve this sewer outfall dispute, both cities entered into a Joint Resolution Agreement to locate it "to a point downstream of the present city limits of Dardanelle on the Arkansas River."

Russellville now refuses to comply.

Part of government by the people is their obligation to participate in these type public decisions. Regulations assume only folks commenting have an interest one way or the other. Thus, the Arkansas Department Environmental Quality is asking Dardanelle, rural water system users and others to comment on Russellville's City Corp. permit application AR0021768 proposing to move its sewer outfall to the river, plus reduce treatment and lower water quality standards. Russellville folks are encouraged to comment also, for several are among 5,000 who signed the 1998 opposing petition.

Needless to say, actions likely to harm Arkansas River quality remain controversial with Dardanelle City officials, recreation users, boaters, anglers, park interest, municipal water users and Friends of the River homeowners. Yell County Wildlife Federation and the Arkansas Bass Federation formally objected to the application eight years ago, largely in concern to protect drift fishing, bass angling and recreation between Riverside Park and the dam.

Likely impacts reveal a broad range of affected interests that deserve a hard look through expanded alternative solutions, not likely to come about though short of forcing a full Environmental Impact Statement. As wastewater SEWAGE now travels Whig Creek, contaminants are lowered and water quality improves, a cleansing function lost through using a pipeline. Thus exchanging Whig Creek for a pipe will degrade quality. Recent water quality restoration projects in south Florida have proven this fact. Continuing the present system may be the best solution, referred to as No Action Alternative.

The river belongs to all the people, and it'd be great if Russellville leaders cared as much about its health as Dardanelle and Yell County folks. This 7.3-million-gallon daily SEWAGE discharge is only the beginning and, early on, Russellville officials acknowledged it's likely to expand many times over.

Following eight years of debate and editorial comment, it is interesting and sometimes entertaining to go back through some of these past Courier articles. Regarding similarity of Russellville's convoluted argument opposing Dover's proposed SEWAGE treatment plant versus Dardanelle situation, Roy Ockert Jr. 3-12-2000 editorial states, "The hypocrisy of the two positions is hard to defend. Being a good neighbor is important." Another issue is cook the books Data Quality produced by consulting firms for these type of controversies. Allen Kimbell writes 10-7-01, "If a project for a client appears unrealistic, substantial future income flies out the window, therefore they must support data aiding their client's goals, or they cease to exist."

So much for Data Quality Act (PL 106-554). Another Arkansas Game and Fish biologist on 9-13-98 suggests all should be trying to clean up the river, not pollute it more, and concluded, "City Corp. is concerned only about the almighty dollar." Protecting water is controversial but shouldn't be.

For those who care, get comments in by July 12 to Mr. Mo Shafii, Permit # AR0021768, ADEQ, PO Box 8913, Little Rock, AR 72219-8913.

Jim Wood