Pryor talks water project

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U.S. Senator Mark Pryor speaks about the Bayou Meto Water Management Project at a meeting held two weeks ago at the Arkansas Rural Water Association, Dale Bumpers Training Facility at Lonoke. (Photo by Ed Galucki)

With the Bayou Meto Water Management Project nearing completion, local officials involved in the project met with U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor at Lonoke to discuss funding. Most were looking for reassurance that the project would not join other federally reliant projects that have stopped or been abandoned because of shrinking federal funds.

“We are all working to make it happen … ” Pryor said in his remarks.

However, much of the benefit they can gain for Bayou Meto depends upon, “getting things moving” in Washington rather than “being stymied in gridlock … nothing’s going through, ” he said.

Tom Fortner, of the Bayou Meto Water Management District, reviewed the three main functions of the Project, and the costs. The system is to provide groundwater protection, agricultural supply, flood control and waterfowl management, Fortner said. Total fund is about $444.5 million from federal and about $255 million non-federal.

The pump stations will total about $40 million of that total. Part of the funding is through an assessment taken on by farmers in the area.

The project would maintain water levels in the Bayou Meto Basin, covering large portions of Lonoke and Jefferson counties. The project, with roots in a 1950 flood control project, would serve to protect the Alluvial Aquifer underlying the area. Other water resource problems include poor drainage in the lower portion of the Bayou Meto Basin and along the upper Bayou Meto, agricultural flooding and loss of environmental resources in the Bayou Meto area.

Fortner reviewed the progress and needs of the project, including the Marion Berry Pumping Station at Scott, and the Lower Basin Pumping Station at Reyedell.

There are 1,500-horsepower motors on the main pumps, and 450 horsepower on the “small” pumps. Main pumps will move 86,000 gallons per minute, the small pump 56,000 gpm. “If you think of 56,000 gallons a minute as a small pump,” he remarked.

All the pumps have been tested,” Fortner said. If the electric service was in place and the final channel dug, the system would be functional, he said.

The contract is about 98 percent complete, Fortner said. “All the big things on the pumping plant are compete. The building is complete, the pumps are complete

The lower pumping station is at Reydell in Jefferson County, has two pumps with a capacity of 450,000 gpm.

The Marion Berry plant would supply the system with water, the Reydell plant would remove water as needed, Fortner explained. The discharge pipes are eight feet in diameter, one for each pump, he said.

The channel to the Reydell station is dug, the pumps are in place, the building is being completed, he said.

The Reydell plant is about 90 percent complete, the contractor estimates the work to be finished by April 15, Fortner said.

The third contract is between the Army Corps of Engineers and North Little Rock for construction of the substation to power the Marion Berry Pumping Station, Fortner said. “The pumps require so much power that they had to build a separate substation … and would require about eight miles of powerline,” he said.

That contract should be finished by the end of the year.

The next step is to get water to the pump station, Fortner said.

The system requirements, such as topography and other factors, determined the location, which requires a channel to connect the station with the Arkansas River.

Pryor said that with projects such as Bayou Meto, the first answer on funding usually, “No.” It is mainly a matter, “to keep pushing and keep pushing,” he said. “We aren’t done yet.”

A $40 million loan through USDA/rural utility service is in progress, though it has “hit some snags” between state and federal levels, Pryor said.

Much of the funds that comes available also has to be divided between the Bayou Meto and the Grand Prairie water project, Pryor said. “We are trying to keep it even as best we can.”

In another matter, Pryor spoke about the recently approved Farm Bill.

Two years earlier he and Sen. John Boozman had voted against it because of the rice insurance, but relied on changing the rice provision in the House of Representatives, Pryor said.

Although that bill died in the House, the new Farm Bill this year changed the rice requirements, and “Is the best we could do under the circumstances,” Pryor said.

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