Arkansas PBS > Programs > Troubled Water

Troubled Water

"Troubled Water" received five awards from the International Academy of Visual Arts in 2009 and the Sierra Club’s Conservation Award for Environmental Reporting.

A study of water resources in Arkansas is as varied as the people who live here. Different issues in different parts of the state are raising a common concern; that our status as a water rich state may be in doubt. Growth in industry, agriculture and population is straining this essential resource and the signs are beginning to show. Water quality is suffering from growth and development in the watersheds and water levels are dropping in the state's aquifers.

"Troubled Water" is an AETN original sixty-minute documentary that traveled across the state to learn more about the potential for a water crisis in Arkansas. Farmers, Geologists, experts and concerned citizens share their opinions and stories about how water is managed in Arkansas and what we need to do to protect this irreplaceable resource.

Beaver Fork Lake

Every year around August, the water in Beaver Lake develops a taste and odor problem. The cause of the problem is something called MIB (Methyl-Isoborneol). A lake or reservoir with excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) breeds small plants called cyanobacteria which produce chemicals that leak into the water. That chemical is MIB. While Beaver Lake represents an excellent water supply for Northwest Arkansas, growth and development around the lake and in the watershed are beginning to affect the water. More advanced methods for treating the water can be employed to deal with the MIB and most other problems that arise, but this doesn?t address the point and non-point pollution problems in the watershed.

El Dorado, Arkansas

In 1996 Union County was among five South Arkansas counties designated the state's first critical groundwater area by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. To deal with the problem, county stakeholders organized and drafted legislation that would authorize the state?s first water conservation board. By 1999 the state legislature passed Act 1050 which not only allowed for the formation of the board, but authorized a fee on Sparta water users. Then in February of 2002 Union County voters approved a temporary sales tax, which combined with the fee paid for the Ouachita Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project which supplies water to the areas three industrial users, Lion Oil, El Dorado Chemical and Chemtura Central Plant. Together, they have shifted over four million gallons a day of withdrawals from the Sparta aquifer to the Ouachita River. This effort is recognized as a prime factor in the recent recovery of the aquifer.

The Grand Prairie

Since rice farming came to Arkansas, over 100 years ago, more water has been taken from the Alluvial aquifer than it can naturally recharge. While farmers are able to irrigate their fields, they have to drill deeper and deeper to reach the water; and that can get expensive. Cones of depression are forming in the aquifer under areas that are heavily farmed and use a lot of water. A cone of depression is a dip in the aquifer where it is unable to recharge as quickly as water is removed. To help the aquifers, there is a plan to draw water from the White River with a pump that would feed it to farmers in the Grand Prairie region through a series of underground pipes and above ground canals. While the Army Corps of Engineers has been working on the project for years and has studied it from all different angles, some people are still concerned with how the pumping will affect the river, wetlands and the wildlife that depend on both.

Gunner Pool Recreation Area

The US Geological Survey's mission is to provide water information that benefits the Nation's citizens. As part of the National Water Quality Assesment Program (NAWQA), the USGS Sampled 30 sites around the Ozarks testing water quality. The survey started in 2006 with two visits to thirty sites in the Ozark Plateau and revisited in 2007 with monthly visits to seven representative sites. Streams tested in the survey span the range from low to high nutrient concentration. The purpose of the study is to understand the primary factors affecting the quality of these resources and how nutrients affect the biological community.

Hartford, Arkansas

Jack White, a retired natural gas and oil supervisor lives in Hartford Arkansas where his riparian rights are being challenged by big industry. For years the ground and surface waters survived the timber, agriculture and livestock industries. But the recent addition of the natural gas industry may prove more than the fragile streams can survive. In a state where no one owns the water and every one is entitled to fair use, White is wondering how one man or even a small town can compete with big business. The old swimming hole is so polluted now it attracts more graffiti than swimmers and stagnates an eerie green. According to the laws established in the state, a riparian water user can use the water so long as it doesn?t infringe on someone else?s riparian use. Enforcing this is a different matter.

Heifer International

Nothing like it had ever been built in Arkansas but that didn't stop them. When it came time for Heifer to build their new international headquarters in downtown Little Rock, they decided to go green with a concept and design that would work with the environment rather than against it. The orientation of the building and its simple curve help it capture sunlight which reduces the need for artificial light inside. The angled roof gathers rainwater which is held in a tower and distributed to the restrooms. The gravel parking lot filters oil and other fluids that drip from cars. Wetlands that surround the building hold water used to irrigate other trees and plants on site. Heifer International proves that stewardship of our natural resources is an individual effort and that an individual effort can make a difference.

Illinois River

Arkansas is rich with so many beautiful rivers, we might not think much about the Illinois River. But for people in Oklahoma, the Illinois River is a state scenic river and the main source of water for Tenkiller Lake. And both the lake and the river are suffering from nutrients coming downstream from Arkansas. A current lawsuit against poultry producers in the state is attempting to force a change, but behind the scenes, people on both sides of the border are working on a solution outside the courtroom.

Lake Maumelle

Fifteen cities and almost 400,000 people depend on Lake Maumelle for their drinking water in central Arkansas, including Little Rock. Construction of the lake began in 1957 with the damming of the Little Maumelle River and was completed in 1959. The watershed surrounding Lake Maumelle is 88,000 acres and 90% of it is forested. Currently about 2500 acres have been developed in the watershed. But as urban sprawl around Little Rock spreads its way westward, property in the watershed is becoming more valuable; especially property in the most sensitive area of the watershed near the intake. Developers are anxious to build but how will these developments affect the watershed, the lake and the drinking water?

Weiner, Arkansas

Every October Weiner Arkansas hosts the Arkansas Rice festival which attracts farmers and rice industry workers from all around the region for fun, games and a parade. It's also a place for farmers to compare notes on new farming techniques. But Weiner is also at the heart of Arkansas?s rice industry and it?s here that issues of aquifer depletion and irrigation projects hits home. Farmers here understand the value of water, and after a dry season in 2007 they are looking to more innovative methods to preserve what they have. Methods such as tail water recovery systems allow farmers to hold onto the water they pump a little longer, but for most, they still have to drill wells to get the water they need to irrigate. And with the water table dropping, it's getting harder and harder to reach.

Last Updated 21 Mar 2019