Illinois River Watershed Partnership educates officials in Northwest Arkansas on sustainable planning
The Illinois River Watershed Partnership’s Blue Cities, Blue Neighborhoods initiative aims to raise awareness of stormwater management issues and educate local officials about sustainable planning.
The Illinois River and its tributaries experience flooding and bank erosion, resulting in loss of usable land, pollution and poor water quality, according to Morgan Keeling, community relations manager for the partnership.
The problem will limit the region’s ability to grow if local cities don’t work together to take action, Keeling said. She said the population is generally moving west across the floodplain. Erosion and flooding could also ruin the natural resources that draw people to northwest Arkansas, she said.
Officials from major cities in the region said that while they have implemented some of the initiative’s recommendations, the effort underscored the need to work at the regional level.
“I think it will be useful for our region to look at stormwater from a holistic and holistic perspective rather than each city doing its own thing,” said Katie Hollingshead, Senior Project Manager and Stormwater at Springdale in the engineering department.
Keeling presented Blue Cities, Blue Neighborhoods to the Rogers Planning Commission on October 19. She also recently shared the initiative with the city councils of Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville and hopes to speak to the towns of Siloam Springs and Tahlequah, Okla.
Blue towns and neighborhoods are either storm water friendly or storm water neutral, according to the partnership’s website.
Traditional stormwater management aimed to remove water from urban areas as quickly as possible and treat heavy rains.
Low-impact development practices restore riparian areas, conserve essential forests and floodplains, reduce flooding, promote green spaces, reduce pollution and erosion, and promote ecologically diverse habitats, the website says.
The nonprofit received a $ 250,000 grant from the Walton Foundation for the two-year initiative, Blue Cities, Blue Neighborhoods, Keeling said. In the first year, the partnership focuses on training city officials in sustainable planning. In the second year, he hopes to work with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension to go door-to-door to reach out to landowners and organize neighborhood meetings and neighborhood parties to discuss water quality and low impact development, she said.
The initial discussion on the stormwater action plan took place on June 30, Keeling said. Local and elected officials from cities in northwest Arkansas, as well as state and national officials, attended the event, she said.
The partnership has developed a toolkit for each of the four major cities of Northwest Arkansas, which includes an overview of topics such as water quality monitoring, shoreline erosion and land degradation. ecosystems, Keeling said.
Sending land down the river
Stormwater causes bank erosion because a large volume of water comes down at the same time, washing the soil downstream, Keeling said. A total of 79% of the areas studied by the partnership exhibit bank erosion, she said. The average erosion rate was 5.2 feet per year, but some areas eroded up to 40 feet per year, she said.
Based on these studies, more than double the phosphorus polluting the Illinois River comes from erosion rather than sewage treatment plants, Keeling said.
“Land is so expensive here, and we are literally sending it down the river,” she said.
1-inch rain creates 5,431 more gallons of runoff per acre in a medium-density residential area than on land with natural vegetation cover, Keeling said. A 66-acre neighborhood in Rogers contributes an additional 358,446 gallons of water with every inch of rain, she said.
Across the watershed, that means an inch of rain sends an additional 263 million gallons of water into the Illinois River and its tributaries, Keeling said.
Between 2010 and 2020, Benton County’s population grew by 28%, from 221,339 to 284,333, according to U.S. Census data. Washington County’s population grew 21% over the same period, from 203,065 to 245,871.
Northwest Arkansas has also seen an increase in precipitation since 2010, Keeling said.
Solutions include increasing the possibilities for water absorption in the soil, cleaning it up and slowing it down before it reaches streams and rivers, upgrading new extension ponds, and making it possible for them. living rivers to expand and contract as they would naturally, Keeling said.
High-density housing, which takes up less space, helps preserve farmland and green spaces, which absorb water better, she said.
Cities get involved
Stormwater is a difficult problem because it rains a lot more than in the past, according to John McCurdy, director of community development at Rogers. Meanwhile, cities are getting more and more populated, he said.
Rogers is already doing almost everything the partnership recommends for the region, McCurdy said.
Rogers began a multi-year stormwater study of the city for about a year, which will examine existing infrastructure for degraded systems and other problems, McCurdy said. Part of the stormwater study will include revising ordinances to create a stormwater master plan so the city knows exactly what the infrastructure requirements are, he said.
The city is also part of a conversation with the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission to expand its study into a regional study, he said.
Keeling’s presentation shows that as the city plans the full growth map, planners need to realize that pockets of high density development help preserve low density areas, he said.
Alan Pugh, City of Fayetteville Engineer, helped facilitate the presentation of Blue Cities’ partnership, Blue Neighborhoods to the Fayetteville Planning Commission.
Fayetteville is already using many ideas from the toolbox, he said. Some of the city’s actions include a low impact development ordinance; a shoreline protection ordinance, which includes buffer zones between developments and watercourses; a drainage criteria manual, which includes water quality requirements; and recent revisions to the floodplains ordinance, he said.
Springdale, like 21 other cities in northwest Arkansas, including Bentonville, Rogers, and Fayetteville, has a municipal separate storm sewer system license with the Arkansas Environmental Quality Division. , Hollingshead said. The permit requires cities to develop and implement their own stormwater management program to reduce contamination from stormwater runoff and ban illegal discharges, according to the Regional Planning Commission website.
Staying in compliance also involves observing the locations of outfalls, providing public education opportunities and managing stormwater within the public works department, Hollingshead said.
The city plans to use the green infrastructure and stormwater mitigation downtown through measures such as rain gardens and landscaped retention ponds, which help treat stormwater on-site rather than removing it. move downstream, she said.
Dan Weese, Bentonville City Engineer, and Janet Paith, Stormwater Coordinator, also attended the June discussion.
“It reminded us of how important it is to continue to focus on eliminating the negative impacts of development on our natural resources through smart growth,” Weese said.
Bentonville has used the partnership’s toolkit to guide the use of low-impact development and to plan development that will impact areas beyond city limits, he said.
Bentonville City Council earlier this year passed an ordinance to include low-impact development ideas in all projects, including single-family homes. Voters have adopted a drainage requirement to design and build projects that will help eliminate local flooding and ensure regional retention to minimize flooding and bank erosion, he said.
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About the watershed
The sources of the Illinois River begin at Hogeye and the river flows west into Oklahoma where it is designated a Scenic River. The river’s watershed covers over one million acres, or 1,700 square miles, including parts of Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas, and a small portion of Crawford County. In Oklahoma, the watershed spans portions of Adair, Delaware, Cherokee, and Sequoyah counties.
Source: Illinois River Watershed Partnership