Are massive reservoirs being considered? New canal systems?

“Under the current water plan, one of the things we do is determine excess surface water amounts. That means after all the in-stream uses have been met – everything from navigational needs, to fish and wildlife, to needs for riparian landowners along a waterway – we can take a thin slice and move it to non-riparian landowners. Those would be people who don’t have factories, plants or farms directly on a body of water. A permit can then be issued for that water to be moved. That’s one way we try to use the available water without harming anyone else’s current use. That resulted from work done in the water plan in the past.

“In the case of the irrigation projects currently under construction, some of the water delivered will immediately be put on cropland. However, with the irrigation season being in dryer months, the wisest thing to do is pump water out of the White or Arkansas rivers in the spring when levels are high.

“If that slice is taken in the spring and moved through canals to on-farm reservoirs, farmers would have a buffer for those summer months. They’d have the ability to use water immediately and also use the water from the reservoirs.

“The idea is to provide the user with flexibility and options. They can use the moved and stored water. Then, in the middle of the summer when rivers and reservoirs are down, if the aquifer has been able to recharge, they can still turn to pumping groundwater.

“We saw that in 2012. The White River Project and Bayou Meto Project are not delivering water currently. But during several periods of the 2012 drought, there were times when the non-riparian permits wouldn’t have allowed the pumping plants to run.

“As we saw, many farmers used every drop from their reservoirs and there was no rain to refill them. When that happens again and the projects are delivering water and the pumping plants must shut off, the farmers can go to wells as a back-up. Those are the sorts of things we’re looking for as creative solutions.”

Top questions you get from farmers regarding the water plan? Top concern?

“They worry that the state of Arkansas will set minimum stream flows on bayous and rivers that would cut off riparian landowners’ pumps. If they rely on groundwater, they fear regulation of their ability to pump water.”

And that would economic disaster for the state? That would essentially be cutting its own throat.

“Water drives our whole economy. That is why we are working with water users to prioritize the big water issues and come up with better management strategies to meet all our water needs. We have the water. It is a matter of using it to everyone’s benefit.”