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Town Branch Watershed Worthy Of Protection
Controlling storm-water runoff, reducing pollution, and protecting wetland and timber all must be addressed as a unit

The watershed of Town Branch begins at the ridge line roughly along and near Maple Street. Some water flows from north and west of Maple but the divide is within a quarter-mile of Maple across the center of Fayetteville and the western edge of the campus of the University of Arkansas.

In addition to the main stream, originating north of Maple and uphill from Razorback Stadium, several smaller tributaries also flow from the campus, including one that drains Baum Stadium and George Cole Field, another that parallels West Avenue and collects water from Maple, Lafayette, Dickson and other downtown Streets before it passes through Walker Park, another that drains the southern part of the Washington-Willow Historic District and the southwestern portion of Mount Sequoyah and flows past the Yvonne Richardson Center on its way to Town Branch near 15th Street.

Equally significant water comes from the west and south, but the rural tributaries of Town Branch currently may not pose as great a threat to Town Branch as do the urban branches.

A great deal of undeveloped, well-vegetated land in south Fayetteville has kept Town Branch relatively clean. However, as the university and the city rapidly grow, new parking lots and roofs prevent water from soaking in where it falls and the threat of downstream flooding constantly increases.

Pollution from overflowing sewers, leaking dumpsters, the waste fuel and oil and other matter deposited by truck and automobile traffic and many other activities related to an urban population lowers the quality of water flowing through Town Branch and into the West Fork of the White River near the Fayetteville industrial park. This means that the quality of the water in Beaver Lake declines as well.

Changes in city and university policy must occur if this problem is to be addressed. No single individual or agency is to blame for the problem. Everyone who works or lives in or visits the city must share the blame and a change in public mindset must occur for the situation to improve.

Controlling storm-water runoff, reducing pollution, and protecting wetland and timber all must be addressed as a unit.

The quality of life that has attracted people to Northwest Arkansas is lowered every day as land is cleared and paved and small houses on tree-lined streets and prairie grassland that previously mostly had served as pasture or informal but irreplaceable sanctuary for birds and wildlife are replaced by parking lots and large apartment buildings and other facilities that prevent rainwater from soaking in where it falls. The cleansing effect of moist-soil prairies and isolated swamps such as one west of Razorback Road and between Sixth Street and the state Revenue Office is rapidly being lost.

While the university overtly seeks to increase its enrollment by 25 percent over the coming decade, various developers work to acquire and develop land throughout the Town Branch watershed. A drastic increase in population, particularly on the south slope of the campus itself and further south along Town Branch will radically alter the area.

The city must begin to take responsibility for development in such watersheds. It cannot rely on federal wetland and storm-water rules to protect its residents. A program of education must be developed to make voluntary compliance with the INTENT of such laws occur. And city rules must take the federal guidelines a step further.

The university must utilize the expertise of its own faculty and staff to make sure that the intellectual center of the state does not become known as the environmental-degradation center of the state. The university stands not only on a significant portion of the headwater of the White River but also sends water from the north side of its campus to the Illinois River watershed, eventually into Oklahoma and into the Arkansas River and back into Arkansas.

At some spots on the university campus, two drops of rain can fall inches apart and one may flow through the White River and the other through the Illinois and Arkansas River and finally mingle where those two rivers join in several places near Big Island in the edge of the Mississippi River.

A good start for the university and the city would be to make a pact to minimize the destructive effect of development in the Town Branch watershed. Don't ask the U.S. Corps of Engineers for a permit to dredge and fill stream beds or wetland areas. Voluntarily comply with the spirit and the letter of the law. Protect the watershed not only for the benefit of Beaver Lake but also for generations of youngsters growing up in the Town Branch watershed. No one in Fayetteville should have to drive to the Buffalo River watershed to see what an Ozark stream is all about. Let's begin to take pride in the ones right in our back yards and protect them.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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