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Printed in the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas 2/18/2004
West Fork Bank Erosion Severe, ADEQ Official Says
UA panel volunteers to assist watershed group

By Flip Putthoff

WEST FORK — When it rains in the West Fork watershed, water isn't all that rushes downstream. The stream bank — tons of it — is washed away with it. Entire chunks of the bank can be carried down the West Fork of the White River during flooding, according to Sandi Formica of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Formica, chief of environmental preservation at ADEQ, addressed bank erosion on the stream Tuesday night at a meeting of the West Fork community watershed group. About 30 attended the meeting at the West Fork community center.

It was the second meeting of the group formed by Audubon Arkansas to improve water quality in the West Fork of the White River. The stream has been designated as impaired by the ADEQ and the federal Environmental Protection Agency because of excess turbidity. Formica said ADEQ monitors eight stream banks on the West Fork. Stream bank erosion at one site is so severe the stream sliced into the bank 16.6 feet in one year.

She added that, from January through September 2002, 640 million pounds of sediment passed through one monitoring station.

More sediment gets washed into the West Fork of the White River, Formica said, than into most Northwest Arkansas streams. The main fork of the White River, Osage Creek in Benton County and the Kings River in Madison and Carroll counties receive less sediment when it rains hard, she said. Audubon Arkansas has cited stretches of treeless banks as a main cause of bank erosion, because there are no root systems to stabilize the stream bank. Another cause of excess sediment cited by the group is runoff from county gravel roads.

At Tuesday's meeting, members of the watershed group drafted a list of concerns they have about the stream. The areas of concern ran the gamut from excess sediment to railroad ties in the water to the effects of Interstate 540.

Melissa Terry, conservation organizer for Audubon Arkansas, said a panel of 21 University of Arkansas professors from various departments has volunteered to help the watershed group. They will answer questions and offer possible solutions on issues raised by the watershed group, Terry said.

She is to take the list of concerns to the panel before the next meeting, set for March 16, and report on any input from the UA panel. That meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the West Fork community center.

West Fork resident James Nelson said people who do not attend the watershed meetings are the ones who need to be educated most about the water-quality issues. "You've got to reach the unconscious ones," Nelson said. "You've got to somehow reach them."

Hugh Earnest of Fayetteville, a former commissioner on the now defunct state scenic rivers commission, believes little stream-bank improvement will take place until county governments make laws to protect them. "Until counties pass riparian zones, we will always be having these meetings," said Earnest, who noted that he served six years on the river commission.


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