On groundwater use…

“Groundwater is a good example of going back and examining whether we have made progress. A new groundwater law was passed in 1991. We have, for over 20 years, put together groundwater reports based on measurements taken from over 1,000 wells around the state. That data, with the help of the USGS, has been put into models to see what trends are with groundwater depletion.

“Where we’ve found problems that aren’t going away, our commission has declared critical groundwater areas. There has been no regulation in these areas, but we’ve tried to help people reduce their groundwater use through tax credits for land-leveling, reservoir-building and conversion from ground- to surface-water use. From our perspective, we still haven’t gotten a handle on the problem because we still use more from the ground than is recharged from the surface.

“At the same time, the demand for irrigation water has risen. Farmers need the certainty irrigation provides.”

On how the state is divided, some of the differences between regions…

“The calculations in our ‘Water Demand Forecast Report’, which is complete, were broken down in several ways. One is by county use. So, for each county in the state, the different uses: livestock and poultry, municipal and public supplies, irrigation, and other things are identified and quantities listed in the ‘Demand Report.’

“Another way water use has been broken down is by industry. The second-largest water use (after agriculture) is thermal electric power generation where steam is generated or water is used to cool power plants.

“Since there are different challenges in different parts of the state for the next year, we’re moving into a phase where people will come together within their regions to decide what the pressing issues are. There regions: north Arkansas (a band across the Ozarks from the Oklahoma border to where the mountains meet the Delta), the west-central region (River Valley counties from the Oklahoma border to Pulaski County), southwestern (the smallest planning area that takes in Texarkana in the Red River drainage area), south-central (the Ouachita Mountains and the gulf-coastal plain in south Arkansas where timber is dominant along with livestock and poultry), east Arkansas (the largest region and also the largest water-user as it takes in the entire Delta).

“The folks in north Arkansas probably don’t want to spend their time trying to solve problems with the alluvial aquifer in the Delta. So, they’ll deal with issues related to their part of the state. The folks in the Delta are most concerned, obviously, that there is sufficient water available for irrigation, river navigation, and water quality.

“One thing that’s also on the table for eastern and southern Arkansas is population declines in many counties. In some, it’s dramatic and long-term projections aren’t that great. Those who depart leave behind infrastructure that must be maintained. But with lower customer bases it becomes increasingly difficult to pay for that maintenance of sewers, water plants and other infrastructures.

“So, there are challenges across the board, some unique to certain regions, some that apply to the whole state.

“Even groundwater depletion doesn’t just affect eastern Arkansas. The agriculture industry in that region drives so much of our state economy that it’s very important to the whole state.”