Dam them! | Arkansas Blog

Friday, September 22, 2006

Dam them!

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2006 at 12:01 PM

The environmental community got rolled today.

After months of haggling, and promised opposition to a weakening of the rule on damming "extraordinary resource waters," the laughingly named Department of Environmental Quality abruptly changed course yesterday afternoon. Department Director Marcus Devine threw in with the folks who want to dam Lee Creek to build a water supply (and sell lakeside lots around the resulting reservoir, most likely) for Van Buren. A more than ample water supply next door in Fort Smith isn't good enough for them.

Under existing rules, the state's 55 or so stretches of extraordinary resource waterways may not be dammed or mined for gravel. They may be used for water supplies, such as by building a weir to divert water to a reservoir. This is already done several places.

The state's rulemaking process has been under review. Environmentalists backed a new rule that would allow dams only if no alternative existed to provide a water supply. That was the department position until last night. It agreed this stance was required by federal law. No more. Now, primarily because of opposition from powerful Commissioner Randy Young, who heads what once was laughingly known as the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission, the department has caved. It will accept a rule -- approved without discussion and unanimously this morning -- that allows dams if there's no "feasible" alternative (a vague standard) and that says the stream may be tapped for uses other than water supply.

The rule goes out now for public hearings but the same commission presumably will adopt it after the hearings. Stream protectors believe it will put the extraordinary waters in the state in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the state still has no comprehensive water plan worth the name. Protection of water appears to be in de facto control of the head of an agency that has presided over the wrecking of aquifers in eastern and southern Arkansas and that pursues ever more expensive and dubious projects to prop up the very farmers who squandered one of the state's great resources.

A troubling theme in the day's events is the growing belief among legislatively powerful rural forces that protecting streams has somehow restricted, for example, cattle operations that aren't on the streams. It hasn't. But cattlemen were among those who turned out in force to support the relaxed rule, sprung on opposition with virtually no notice. They were joined by the black helicopter crowd that opposes any government protection of natural resources as the enemy of unfettered private property rights.


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