JASPER — Septic tank mitigation, Big Creek seepage studies and consultation on infrastructure needs for expanding and connecting recreational trails in Newton and Searcy counties were proposed to the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) for funding when the governor-appointed panel met in Jasper Thursday morning, Sept. 21.
When the BRCC was established by Governor Asa Hutchinson in 2019, it came with $2 million to be spent on initiatives identified by feedback from local landowners, county and municipal officials, tourism industry representatives, conservation organizations, agricultural groups and other stakeholders within the Buffalo River Watershed. BRCC has already issued grants for municipal water and wastewater infrastructure, improving unpaved roads, and to cost sharing programs that benefit the agriculture and forest industries inside the watershed. The BRCC still has $69,676 remaining.
The septic tank remediation project offers cost share dollars to residents within the watershed needing to have their failing septic systems repaired or replaced.
H2Ozarks is administering the program and a representative from the organization made a presentation Thursday asking for additional funds to continue the project by expanding into the area that includes Mill Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River. Mill Creek begins in Boone County and flows south along state Highway 7 and empties into the Buffalo National River near Pruitt.
H2Ozarks representatives said the funds would be used to establish a relationship with landowners in that part of the watershed, primarily through outreach meetings and workshops.
Representatives from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) attending the meeting remotely, proposed the remaining funds be used to build on seepage investigations previously conducted on Big Creek. This tributary flows into the Buffalo National River at Carver. The creek is located in a karst landscape of sinkholes, sinking streams, caves, springs, and similar features created by dissolving limestone. Stream flow measurements and non-toxic dye tracing would be used to identify and complete the picture of the stream's behaviors.
Arkansas State Senator Missy Irvin, representing District 24 that includes Searcy County and a portion of Newton County, commented to the committee remotely via Internet the need to recognize the importance of tourism in the watershed. She noted Searcy and Newton counties have many recreational trails and suggested money be used to hire a consultant to recommend infrastructure development that would allow for extending and connecting theses trails.
At previous meetings, the BRCC received proposals for additional funding for feral hog management, the continuation of the unpaved roads program, and to further promote and advertise agricultural cost share programs.
Committee Chair and Arkansas Agriculture Department Secretary Wes Ward also noted requests made previously for funding to mitigate costs incurred within the watershed that may be caused by the April 8, 2024, solar eclipse. It is anticipated an overwhelming number of visitors will travel to the watershed to witness the eclipse totality that will occur in areas in Newton and Searcy counties.
Ward said the BRCC will reconvene in three to four weeks. At that time the H2Ozarks and USGS can refine the cost estimates for their requests and provide more information. The other funding proposals will also be given another look. The meeting will be held at a location in Searcy County which will be announced along with the meeting date and time.