FAYETTEVILLE – By now, producers across Arkansas, particularly in the northeastern counties of the state, are familiar with the efforts of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service to help farmers and ranchers prepare for and recover from the effects of seasonal rainfall and out-and-out flooding.
What may be less commonly known are the Division of Agriculture’s efforts to help metropolitan areas deal with the increasingly common flooding events associated with stormwater runoff in developed and developing commuities.
Katie Teague, an agricultural agent with the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service, began meeting with members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission in 2002, as several cities connected by what is known as the “urbanized area” began preparing for federal Clean Water Act regulations that would go into effect in 2003.
Stormwater regulations start
“Stormwater regulations truly began in 1999,” said Teague. “Implementation of ‘Phase I’ of the regulations only affected one large urban area in Arkansas, and that was Little Rock. Northwest Arkansas and other communities across the state weren’t affected until the ‘Phase II’ regulations took effect in 2003.”
The very concept of “stormwater” focuses on water that flows off of buildings and artificial, impervious surfaces, such as asphalt parking lots, and ultimately flows into creeks, rivers and other natural waterways, often carrying pollutants with it. Federal stormwater regulations have traditionally focused on attenuating the amount of pollution that makes its way into natural waterways and reservoirs through that runoff.
For more than a decade, agents with the Cooperative Extension Service offices in Benton and Washington counties, including Teague, Jane Maginot and Trish Ouei, Washington and Benton County agricultural agents, respectively, who work solely on stormwater issues, have provided education and best practice management strategies for the urbanized area through the Northwest Arkansas Stormwater Education Program. The work allows the cities and counties involved to fulfill their mandate to address stormwater runoff issues to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which in turn reports on the issue to the EPA.
Jefferson County involvement
Municipal entities in the Pine Bluff area, including the City of Pine Bluff, White Hall, Jefferson County and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff campus, have also contracted with the Cooperative Extension Service to provide stormwater education, Teague said.
Recently, however, some of the state’s municipal areas have begun to expand their focus, from the quality of stormwater runoff to the addressing the sheer quantity of it as well.
The storm and flooding events in late April and early May, which so severely affected growers in the northeastern counties of Arkansas, took a sharp toll on municipalities in Benton and Washington counties as well.
“In late April, Benton County already had very saturated soils, and we got a good 6-10 inches dumped on top of that,” Maginot said. “This is the same event that devastated row crops in the eastern part of the state, where most of the impact was felt in row crops. In the northwest, we suffered crop damage, to be sure, but we mainly felt the impacts of the flood in developed municipalities.”
Several golf courses in the Bella Vista area suffered about $500,000 in damage, and the City of Springdale reported about $3 million in damage from the same rain and flood event, she said.
Localized flooding issues
“As our flooding is increasing, flooding is happening outside the FEMA-designated floodplains,” Maginot said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Most homeowners outside those areas don’t have flood insurance, so there’s nothing that reimburses them for that damage, unless FEMA declares it an emergency, which doesn’t happen very often.”
“After this last flood in the beginning of May, the members of the 22 stormwater jurisdictions we serve decided that something has to be done,” Maginot said. “We’re flooding, we keep flooding more and more, and we just keep pushing it off. Let’s see if we can get a regional approach for stormwater quantity management.”
Maginot and Teague organized an informal meeting for June 20, inviting mayors, planning directors and others directly involved with managing stormwater. Maginot said more than 40 people from 16 different cities and towns in Northwest Arkansas attended the meeting, which was held in Springdale.
Maginot said that while approaching stormwater quantity management from a regional perspective has its advantages, there are inherent challenges as well.
“A regional approach will likely include cooperation among cities involving shared training, education, improved drainage ordinances and perhaps model ordinances,” Maginot said. “An ambitious solution would be a large-scale bio-retention pond, where we catch stormwater runoff and slow it down before it hits a developed area. In Northwest Arkansas, however, none of these cities have money dedicated exclusively to stormwater mitigation projects.”
To learn about stormwater runoff management efforts in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.
— Ryan McGeeney is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.