Eighty farmers representing 130,000 acres in southern Arkansas County, Ark., were given the okay Nov. 15 to form their own independent water district. More importantly, say several growers Delta Farm Press has spoken to, the farmers were allowed by the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission to drop out of the $320-million White River Irrigation District plan.

In an attempt to keep from pumping the alluvial aquifer dry, the controversial plan would take 120 billion gallons from the White River annually. Using a series of pipes, canals and reservoirs the surface water would be sent to farms in Lonoke, Arkansas, Prairie and Monroe counties.

“This will take us out of the WRID equation. We formed (the new district) because state law clearly said that irrigation districts may overlap,” said Jerry Lee Bogard, a long-time critic of the WRID plan. “We took a look around the lower end of the WRID and realized we had a large acreage that already adheres to a higher degree of water conservation than the rest of the district and maybe the rest of the state.

“We're doing more than the WRID engineers propose to do with the U.S. Corps of Engineers plan. We're doing more now than the WRID plan calls for 20 years down the road.”

Knowing there are farmers on the northern end of the WRID who favor the Corps' plan, Bogard and colleagues decided form a district of their own. Over the summer and early fall, the group went to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Arkansas Soil and Water Commission to make their case.

“The provisions of state law are on our side, and the governor gave us a favorable response. The idea was well-received. This will let those who want to get with the WRID plan to go ahead. And it'll take us out of the fight,” said Bogard.

Bogard said members of the new water district won't be heavily taxed although there will be some annual administrative costs.

“But that will be peanuts — maybe a few cents an acre. One hundred percent of the folks in this new district are for it. We're not gerrymandering to get our way, and we're not taxing folks. We're going to continue conserving water in bigger and better ways.”

The WRID plan calls for about 20 percent water conservation, said Bogard. He insists the new district is already in the “60-to-70 percent conservation range from reservoirs and tapping rivers, streams and tributaries. We have private treaties between farmers. The way we do it makes neighborly and fiscal sense.

“We don't want to be penalized for having already done a lot of conservation work. We're more than happy not to be part of the WRID debate anymore.”

However, Bogard has mixed feelings about putting the sword down. “I have a strong conviction that the positions we took earlier are correct.

I've spent my own money, and my family has sacrificed time for this. I didn't want to be involved from the beginning, but it was the right thing to do.”

Even with the release of 80 farmers in the southern part of the WRID, 300 other farmers are petitioning the courts to be let out of the district and project. A judge will address the case sometime in late January.


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.

Cotton variety test results online

Results of the University of Arkansas Cotton Variety Test have been posted on the Internet at:

http://www.arkansasvarietytesting.org/cotton.html.

The information on the Website will be updated as new data become available.