Sunday, March 29, 2009

Doug Timmons still leading the charge to protect Beaver Lake in Benton County

Doug Timmons is a former president of Association for Beaver Lake Environment.
Thank you, Doug. We in Washington County are also very interested in maintaining the highest quality of water entering the White River and Beaver Lake.
People in our county (including this member of ABLE and participant in two of the focus groups of the Beaver Lake Policy Group) are still shaking their heads over a conditional-use permit issued by Washington County Quorum Court to allow a red-dirt farm to become a limestone quarry expected to last 70 years in a barely rural neighborhood, despite the outcry of the neighbors. The JPS actually voted down some of the weak restrictions recommended by its planning officials.
Don't expect county government to help fight pollution of our watershed much at this point.
But plenty of people here agree exactly with what you wrote. We are making progress under our new mayor. So Fayetteville likely will do its part.
Aubrey James Shepherd

Doug Timmons wrote on March 29, 2009:
To my fellow ABLE members,

Many of you might not be aware that the Northwest Arkansas Council (the good ole boys) has hired Tetra Tech to study the Beaver Lake watershed and to facilitate the development of a Beaver Lake Watershed Management Plan. They formed a Beaver Lake Watershed Policy Advisory Group (PAG) that is made up of different stakeholders. Acting ABLE President Tony Miltich has been participating on this PAG since I had resigned from the ABLE board but I have been monitoring this PAG and have continued to receive reference materials that Tetra Tech has been developing.

I was suspicious of this PAG from the beginning because many of the stakeholders on the PAG have not proven to be interested in protecting Beaver Lake in the past, and some have worked against protecting the lake (such as the NW Arkansas Property Rights group). I had communicated this suspicion with the ABLE board on several occasions but we wanted to participate to make sure that the goals of the PAG were truly to protect the lake. Representation includes Tyson, lake area JP Frank Winscott (who hasn’t been a friend of Beaver Lake), the Beaver Water District (BWD), a developer or two, the head of the Bentonville Chamber (who supported Grandview Heights condos), the NW Arkansas Property Rights group (who fight any type of local regulation), etc. I think you get my drift here, that many of these people haven’t proven to be Beaver Lake friendly in the past.

My fears and suspicions have recently been confirmed. I attended a recent PAG meeting on March 25th as an observer. Tony was there as the official ABLE representative. The problem starts with the goals that were developed by the PAG. The goals are as follows:
Maintain high quality water supply (no argument with this one)
Restore quality of impaired streams (no argument with this one)
Minimize additional costs (I have a problem with this one)
Minimize additional regulations (I have a bigger problem with this one)
Cost Effectiveness (more in a moment)
Risk of future impairment to streams (no problem with this one)

Now, when the main goal is supposed to be protecting Beaver Lake from further water quality degradation, number 3 & 4 above shouldn’t receive much weight. The major goal should have been stated as… “What actions are required and by who, and how much will it cost stakeholders to protect Beaver Lake from further water quality degradation”?

Well, Tetra Tech presented four different strategies that were made up of various types of best management practices (BMP’s) and actions needed to achieve a percentage of sediment and phosphorous reduction needed to protect the lake. Of the four strategies, the first two relied mostly on voluntary measures and education, and completely ignored any regulation for developers, both during construction and post construction. Not surprisingly, those two strategies were not effective in protecting the lake, option 1 achieved only 30%, and option 2 achieved only 50% of the targets for reducing sedimentation and phosphorous. That means if those two options are adopted, the lake will continue to get dirtier and more polluted. I asked a question of Tetra Tech to confirm that fact and to make sure everyone understood that and Tetra Tech confirmed it in front of everyone. However, Tetra Tech tried to steer the group to option 2 because it was supposedly the most cost effective and didn’t include any regulations. Tony Miltich, myself, and one or two others spoke up forcefully against any strategy that doesn’t “hold the line” on current water quality. Others in the room didn’t seem so anxious to support option 2 (except the NW Arkansas Property Rights Group) because it didn’t really do the job of protecting the water. It seemed obvious to me that Tetra Tech was producing exactly the kind of options that would allow the good ole boys in the NWA Council to pat themselves on the back and say they are taking action to protect the lake. Lake area JP Frank Winscott spoke up and didn’t even think the Quorum Court would support option 2 because of the cost and certainly was against options 3 & 4 (even though they were the only options that would “hold the line” on current water quality. Option 3 achieved 75% of sedimentation reduction and 95% of phosphorous reduction. Option 4 achieved 95% sedimentation reduction and 121% phosphorous reduction!

The bottom line here is that it will cost money to “hold the line” on water quality. The Tetra Tech study estimated that it will cost about $40 million per year for option 3 and $59 million per year for option 4. I will stick to option 4 which is the best option to protect the lake. This $59 million included about $14 million that property owners would be responsible to maintain post-construction BMP’s on new development. This is not single family, single owner home construction we are talking about but new commercial development such as subdivisions, commercial development etc. The property owners could be businesses, POA’s of new subdivisions, etc. Farmers would only have a very small responsibility of about $1 million that would be for BMP’s such as pasture maintenance. Developers would have a large burden because the new development is what will cause a large percentage of the sedimentation and additional phosphorous in the future. They would have a responsibility for $26 million, which was estimated at $7,700 per 1 acre. Those costs would pay for construction BMP’s like dry retention ponds, or low impact development practices. That cost would be expected to be passed through to purchasers of the property, which in my opinion, is how it should be. Very similar to an impact fee. Local water suppliers like BWD would be responsible for $4 million for BMP’s. Local government’s costs would be $10 million for unpaved road improvements, storm-water program administration, and BMP’s. State government could provide grants estimated to $1 million and Federal government grants could provide an estimated $6 million. Now, if you really dig into these numbers, you would eliminate the grant monies because local people would not be on the hook for those monies, and you could eliminate the developer’s costs because those would be absorbed by new property owners. So, that leaves a total annual cost estimate of $26 million. There are 300,000 current water users in this region so if you do the math, that cost equates to $86 per year for each water user, or $7 a month added to a monthly water bill. Option 3 would cost less but doesn’t provide as much protection as option 4. Keep in mind that these “per user” costs would actually go down over time because the area population is expected to grow.

Is $7 a month too much to protect Beaver Lake? I don’t think so. If you think so, consider that a dirty and polluted Beaver Lake will reduce your property values, as tourists quit coming to the area, which means fewer people looking to relocate to this region. Cost will always be an excuse for not taking appropriate action unless the people make their voices heard. JP Winscott doesn’t think the QC will support this cost because he only hears from a few loud property rights people on a regular basis. All he hears from them is NO to anything the county tries to do. The silent majority needs to become more involved so that we have more say in our futures.

If option 3 or 4 is not adopted by the PAG, you can expect dirtier water in the future, that is beyond dispute now that the science is documented. The study stated that the water quality is good, has gotten worse over the previous years, and will continue to steadily degrade over time unless option 4 is adopted. I view this whole exercise as flawed because they are presenting false choices to the PAG to protect the lake, and calling option two the most “cost effective” option. I reject that because there is nothing effective about a plan that will only do half of what you need it to do. I also do not understand the goal #4 being included, because there are no local regulations that protect Beaver Lake. Voluntary measures are great, but won’t do the job, and some storm-water regulations are badly needed. Of course people want the cheapest possible way to achieve a goal, but if the goal is to protect the lake, to “hold the line” on water quality, then the only options discussed should be those options that actually “hold the line”. Any discussion about cost can occur after the needed actions are defined.

Please contact your JP, especially JP Frank Winscott, and let them know that you expect them to do what is necessary to protect the lake, to “hold the line” on water quality. Let them know it is not acceptable to allow Beaver Lake to become any more polluted. Letter to the editor are very good at communicating public opinion and I would encourage you all to do that. I will attach the copies of the reports that Tetra Tech distributed to the PAG. The reports contain some tremendous information you will find interesting.

Thank you for your support in protecting Beaver Lake!

Doug Timmons
Former ABLE President and current ABLE member

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