Article inaccurately portrays minimum flow issue
LITTLE ROCK - A recent article published in an Arkansas electrical cooperative magazine inaccurately describes the proposed minimum water flow issue on the state’s trout fisheries. The article, printed in the September 2003 issue of Rural Arkansas, sidestepped a more accurate dialogue of the matter to frighten electric cooperative customers.
A minimum flow is the release of water through the dam downstream when no hydropower is being generated and no floodwater is being evacuated. This would maintain a small flow in the river downstream of the dam greater than now exists. Minimum flows will not only improve trout habitat - they will also produce electricity that will be sold on the grid, not wasted. The article's portrayal of all minimum flows as an unavoidable cost to ratepayers is simply wrong, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Vice-Chairman Forrest Wood said. “The article's conclusion is based on unsubstantiated statements by unknown employees of a federal agency. The article is drawing conclusions before the facts are even presented and explained,” Wood said.
The article tries to pit users of hydroelectric power against trout fishermen by stating that the public would be subsidizing trout fishing in Arkansas. This issue goes much deeper than that. Among topics to be addressed in the study are flood control, hydropower, water supply, fish and wildlife, and recreation in each lake and in each river downstream. Minimum flow releases are designed to sustain the tailwater fishery when low flow conditions presently occur after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Southwestern Power Administration normally stop releases. The improved trout habitat resulting from the minimum flows releases will then more closely simulate a natural trout stream and river flow conditions before the dams were built. Trout food producing areas will also be enhanced and expanded.
Congress has authorized the Corps of Engineers to reallocate 1.5 feet of storage at Beaver, 2.0 feet at Table Rock, 3.5 feet at Norfork, 5.0 feet at Bull Shoals and 3.0 feet of storage at Greers Ferry. Lawmakers wisely directed that modifications not be made until the reallocation could be found to be "technically sound, environmentally acceptable, and economically justified." A soon-to-be-released Corps of Engineers report will evaluate in detail all the potential benefits and costs of providing minimum flows and provide those results to Congress.
“Far from theorizing about the environmental benefits, the minimum flows authorized from the dams are based on detailed studies the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission completed during the 1990s. These studies unequivocally demonstrated the environmental improvements to the tailwater ecosystem and the trout fishery that could be achieved under very modest minimum flows,” AGFC Director Scott Henderson explained.
“While Congress recognized the tremendous benefits to be derived environmentally and economically from improved White River flows, they were sensitive to avoiding significant impacts to other lake uses, especially hydropower. For this reason, the Congressional directive was that any minimum flow meet the three criteria mentioned above,” he added.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has said that it will continue to work with the Corps of Engineers and Southwestern Power Administration in the spirit of cooperation to arrive at a minimum flow solution that will not adversely impact electrical rate payers. “Far from the catastrophe painted by the Rural Arkansas article, we believe a win-win solution is possible that will benefit all Arkansans both economically and environmentally. Framing the issue as trout anglers vs. rate payers is inaccurate and counter-productive,” Wood said.
A draft report on the issue should be available this fall from the Corps of Engineers. An e-mail box has been established for questions, comments or concerns directly to the team working on the project. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailing address is: White River Minimum Flow Project, c/o Mike Biggs; Planning, Environmental and Regulatory Division, P.O. Box 867, Little Rock, AR 72203-0867.
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