BY ADAM WALLWORTH, Northwest Arkansas Times
Fayetteville’s Town Branch Neighborhood Association on June 29, 2004, received a $1,500 mini-grant from the Arkansas Game Fish & Commission’s Stream Team Program. "This has been a Godsend," said Steve Filipeck, statewide Stream Team coordinator, about the program, which began in 1996 with about a dozen teams.
The program has grown considerably since its inception and now 500 teams from across the state are involved in water quality, Filipeck said. The teams range in size from a family of two to a group of 100, such as the Bayou Bartholomew Alliance, which oversees the world’s largest bayou. "A lot of people have gotten into this — 6-year-olds to 106-year-olds have gotten into this," said Filipeck, who’s been with the commission 25 years. "You can tell when a program grows from 12 to 500 this was meant to be. It’s one of the better programs we’ve had in years."
Stream Teams are an incredible avenue for getting projects accomplished in the face of staffing constraints, Filipeck said, and last year alone were responsible for a minimum of $100,000 worth of work.
The mini-grant will be used to purchase a kit for testing water quality that the group will use to monitor the health of the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River.
The program gives up to $5,000 in grants, Filipeck said, but the groups must provide matching funds in the form of volunteer hours. The team will monitor the stream and test it a few times a year, then provide the commission a report that will be added to the commission’s database.
Additionally, the group will continue working on remedial projects along the creek, such as rebuilding eroding banks, replanting trees and removing litter, Filipeck said.
As the group continues to monitor the stream, they will begin to see how its health is improving because of their work, he said. "Talk about turning light bulbs on in people’s minds."
Stream teams work on all components of water management in the state. Contrary to what the name implies, Filipeck said, the groups focus on more than streams — from wetland to lakes, "anything to do with water."
The commission has an extensive list of partners in the program, including the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the state Department of Parks and Tourism. In addition to the normal regulatory agencies, about 40 nongovermental organizations are partners.
The diversity of partners illustrates the importance of water issues, Filipeck said. "Some people own the bottom of the stream but they don’t own the water.
"That’s why you see groups like the Sierra Club at the same table with the Cattlemen’s Club," he said.
To date, the Town Branch Neighborhood Association has held two creek cleanups and a creek clinic with the aid of Melissa Terry, conservation organizer for Audubon Arkansas.
In a statement, Terry explained that Audubon is conducting a study of the West Fork-White River watershed, of which the Town Branch is a major tributary.
"Audubon selected the Town Branch basin as a demonstration site because what happens in this urban stream is indicative of what is occurring in urban watersheds all over Northwest Arkansas," Terry said.
It is imperative that people consider water quality, which is being affected by the area's continued growth, she said.
"Rapid development, loss of streamside trees and stormwater runoff are all factors in the sedimentation of our streams, rivers and drinking water reservoir, Beaver Lake."