Plan­ners seek re­gional tack on flood­ing

Group looks at area ap­proach to pre­ven­tion, man­age­ment

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - RON WOOD

Flood­wa­ter doesn’t re­spect mu­nic­i­pal bound­aries, so plan­ners say a re­gional ap­proach to flood­ing is needed as North­west Arkansas con­tin­ues to grow.

Jane Maginot, a wa­ter qual­ity ex­pert with the Univer­sity of Arkansas Sys­tem Divi­sion of Agri­cul­ture Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice, said she and her peers usu­ally look at wa­ter qual­ity but de­cided some­one needed to look at wa­ter quan­tity, which led to a com­mit­tee be­ing formed to con­sider a re­gional ap­proach to flood pre­ven­tion and man­age­ment.

“It kind of came up to start talk­ing about this idea of re­gional floods, not just as in flood con­trol but flood help, how to help other com­mu­ni­ties that are hav­ing is­sues with flood­ing and how to help them try to not have as many flood­ing is­sues,” Maginot said re­cently. “We thought why don’t we pull to­gether some peo­ple and see what the in­ter­est is. Are there com­mu­ni­ties out there that can ben­e­fit from some kind of re­gional flood man­age­ment pro­gram? That’s re­ally what to­day is, it’s just a start­ing point to de­ter­mine the in­ter­est and the fea­si­bil­ity and what that might start to look like.”

Other metro ar­eas, in­clud­ing Las Ve­gas, Hous­ton/Galve­ston and the cen­tral val­ley area of Cal­i­for­nia have taken up flood­ing from a re­gional per­spec­tive, Maginot said.

Stud­ies have shown that if it rains 1 inch over an acre of for­est you get about 720 gal­lons of runoff, Maginot said. If it rains over an acre

of park­ing lot, you get 27,000 gal­lons of runoff.

About 40 rep­re­sen­ta­tives from area towns, cities, Wash­ing­ton and Ben­ton coun­ties and wa­ter-re­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions gath­ered a cou­ple weeks ago at the North­west Arkansas Re­gional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to dis­cuss po­ten­tial ben­e­fits and ob­sta­cles of a re­gional ap­proach.

Sev­eral ma­jor floods have hit ar­eas of North­west Arkansas in the past decade and plan­ners ex­pect things to only get worse as more peo­ple move here and more homes, com­mer­cial ar­eas, roads and park­ing lots are built.


Flood­ing in re­cent years tore apart a golf course in Bella Vista, poured through houses in John­son, floated a mini­van on the main drag in Lin­coln and dam­aged bridges and roads in ru­ral ar­eas. Two peo­ple, a lit­tle girl and an el­derly man, re­cently drowned af­ter be­ing swept away.

The cost of the de­struc­tion keeps ris­ing. For ex­am­ple, dam­age in April 2011 was es­ti­mated at $3.5 mil­lion to pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties in Wash­ing­ton County and about $1 mil­lion in Ben­ton County. In April 2013, flood­ing caused about $4 mil­lion dam­age to pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties in Ben­ton County. In De­cem­ber 2015, an es­ti­mated $2 mil­lion dam­age was done to roads alone in Ben­ton County. Amounts have not been es­ti­mated for this spring’s flood­ing in the re­gion.

Res­i­dents also are re­port­ing flood­ing in ar­eas that never used to flood.

“We’re see­ing that more and more fre­quent. I’ve worked for Bella Vista for eight years, and we’ve had just about as many floods,” plan­ning di­rec­tor Chris Sune­son said.

Kevin Gam­brill, with Ben­ton County plan­ning, said county is­sues re­late to be­ing down­stream and the wa­ter keeps get­ting higher.

“We have some par­tic­u­lar hotspots. The un­in­cor­po­rated county ends up get­ting the brunt of the runoff that comes from the cities,” Gam­brill said. “USGA stream gauge data his­tory is get­ting big­ger and big­ger dur­ing each of th­ese events. I have 9- and 10-foot high wa­ter marks in a par­tic­u­lar neigh­bor­hood. It’s not get­ting any bet­ter.”

Gam­brill said any­thing that can be done up­stream to re­duce flood­ing would be ben­e­fi­cial and at least main­tain the sta­tus quo.

Nathan See, with the city of Pea Ridge, said his city’s prob­lems are the op­po­site.

“A lot of that prob­lem we have is com­ing from the ru­ral ar­eas car­ry­ing those trees and stuff,” See said. “It’s gonna grab all that stuff and bring it down to the Peck Road bridge and just close it up. That de­bris is ridicu­lous. We’ve got to get into where this prob­lem is ac­tu­ally com­ing from.”

See said once the bridge on Peck Road over Lit­tle Sugar Creek in the south­east part of town is clogged wa­ter goes over the bridge and also back up to flood ad­ja­cent ar­eas, in­clud­ing parts of Big Sugar Golf Club.

Gam­brill said he has tal­lied flood­ing calls to emer­gency man­age­ment.

“When I looked at it on a map, it’s very ran­dom, it’s very spread out. The wa­ter de­cides it’s go­ing to go to the low­est spot and it’s gonna im­pact an old de­vel­op­ment. It’s ev­ery­where. There’s ab­so­lutely no pat­tern to whether it’s in a flood­plain or not in a flood­plain,” Gam­brill said. “It’s truly ran­dom, at least based on a sam­ple.”


His­tor­i­cally, each lo­cal en­tity has tried to deal with flood­ing is­sues in its own way, with­out re­gional co­or­di­na­tion.

“We need re­gional stormwa­ter de­ten­tion,” said Jerry Mor­row with the city of John­son. “Creeks don’t care about city lim­its, creeks are go­ing to do what they do and if you keep in­creas­ing hard sur­face, you’re gonna in­crease runoff. This is not a new prob­lem, it’s new to us [John­son] be­cause we’re just now grow­ing and all indi­ca­tions are we’re go­ing to keep grow­ing. Now is the time to set mea­sures in place to fix it so it doesn’t hap­pen.”

Mor­row said flood­ing in April was such an extreme event it’s prob­a­bly not fi­nan­cially fea­si­ble to try and build for a re­peat, but cities can plan and build for more typ­i­cal flood­ing events.

“Set up re­gional de­ten­tion. Set up chan­nel­iza­tion. You can do var­i­ous things,” Mor­row said. “Ev­ery­body’s got to work to­gether on this.”

Mor­row said en­gi­neers are typ­i­cally de­sign­ing sub­di­vi­sions to meet min­i­mum city re­quire­ments and don’t look at the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect down­stream.

“Many of the or­di­nances in place are cre­at­ing the prob­lem,” Mor­row said.

Fix­ing the prob­lem prom­ises to be ex­pen­sive and with many other press­ing is­sues, find­ing money could be the big­gest ob­sta­cle, said Don Marr, chief of staff for the city of Fayet­teville. North­west Arkansas doesn’t have a re­gional stormwa­ter man­age­ment util­ity or any­thing that could be es­tab­lished as a source of money other than a gen­eral sales tax, Marr said.

“I think the chal­lenge is the fund­ing, be­cause no one’s gen­eral fund can han­dle the kind of cap­i­tal re­quire­ment needed to re­duce it im­me­di­ately,” Marr said. “We have iden­ti­fied $13 to $15 mil­lion worth of drainage im­prove­ments that could be done. That’s two years of our CIP, a hun­dred per­cent of it. There has to be a fund­ing so­lu­tion de­vel­oped.”

Marr said an­other ob­sta­cle is that res­i­dents don’t take kindly to city of­fi­cials spend­ing their tax dol­lars on re­gional projects out­side city lim­its when they’ve got plenty of is­sues in their own town to deal with.

“They’re all go­ing to get un-elected,” Marr said.

A re­gional ap­proach may be the only way to help smaller cities, with their equally smaller bud­gets.

“At the end of the day, if the money’s not there, the smaller cities can’t do it.” said Al Videtto, with the city of Lin­coln.

Gary Black­burn, mayor of Garfield, said the re­al­ity is his town would need out­side help to par­tic­i­pate.

“Garfield’s 502 [res­i­dents], and we’ve got a back­hoe and trac­tor,” Black­burn said. “We couldn’t hardly get any­thing done if it weren’t for in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal work with Ben­ton County.”

Mor­row sug­gested de­vel­op­ers could be charged a fee or a sur­charge could be added to wa­ter bills to help pay for drainage im­prove­ments.

Videtto said ru­ral wa­ter is al­ready ex­pen­sive.

“West Wash­ing­ton County has some of the high­est poverty rates in the state,” Videtto said. “We’ve got to re­mem­ber when we’re do­ing this there are peo­ple who are barely feed­ing them­selves, and if we put a high fee on their wa­ter then we might cre­ate more prob­lems in other ar­eas for them.”


What­ever the group ul­ti­mately comes up with needs to be ap­plied uni­formly by ev­ery en­tity to be ef­fec­tive and to make sure no one is put at an eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage, sev­eral mem­bers said.

Videtto and oth­ers said there’s stiff re­gional com­pe­ti­tion to at­tract new busi­nesses and jobs. Stricter de­vel­op­ment re­quire­ments typ­i­cally drive up the costs of lo­cat­ing a new busi­ness and if it’s cheaper in the next town over, a busi­ness may choose to go there in­stead.

“I think there is a real eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment re­al­ity to that, and peo­ple use it against you to say you’re over-reg­u­lat­ing, you’re cre­at­ing more fees, we’re go­ing to go to XY com­mu­nity and not de­velop in yours; it be­comes very dif­fi­cult po­lit­i­cally,” Marr said. “The re­al­ity of it is you have to bal­ance that with know­ing other places don’t have that and you’re com­pet­ing with them.”

Maginot said she was pleased with the turnout and the amount of in­ter­est shown by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the meet­ing.

“There’s at least a prob­lem; we all agree on that,” Maginot said. “So there’s gotta be some kind of way to go for­ward, whether it’s an idea we can shoot for the stars or try to find out some smaller ways and smaller av­enues as start­ing points.”

The group is ex­pected to meet again and will likely form a sub­com­mit­tee to ex­plore how to best ad­dress re­gional flood­ing is­sues in North­west Arkansas.

The group wants to look at what scope of work the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers will al­low to be done in streams and what can be done when prob­lems, such as block­ages, arise on pri­vate prop­erty.

“It turns into a very com­pli­cated is­sue; you’ve opened up a can of worms there with who owns it and who reg­u­lates it,” Mor­row said.

Other ideas in­cluded pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns on what in­di­vid­ual home­own­ers and prop­erty own­ers can do to pro­tect them­selves from flood­ing as well as to pro­tect those down­stream, work­ing with cities on train­ing for flood mit­i­ga­tion and scout op­por­tu­ni­ties for up­dated or im­proved drainage man­u­als and cri­te­ria or ini­ti­at­ing such changes.

The group also tossed around the idea of model or­di­nances cities could adopt, ex­plor­ing whether a re­gional util­ity or author­ity to deal with the is­sue, a pos­si­ble mas­ter plan for Ben­ton and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties and a sim­ple mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing each en­tity in the re­gion could ex­e­cute.

“It would be­come a bind­ing agree­ment. It may just be we all agree to study cer­tain things,” Mor­row said. “I mean it takes away the is­sue of who’s the first per­son in the wa­ter, the first one to get shot.”

File photo/NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

The deck of Beaver Bridge floats in the flooded White River April 30 in the Beaver com­mu­nity.

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