Saturday, October 28, 2006

TOP STORY >>Cabot acts to join water cooperative

Leader staff writer

Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission bought a seat on the board of the Lonoke/White Public Water Authority Wednesday night by voting to pay that new organization a $1 fee for each of its 9,000 customers.

But J.M. Park, chairman of the Cabot commission, told members before the vote that the main reason for joining was to gain the good will of their neighbors at a time when that good will is very important.

Currently, Cabot gets about 3 million gallons of water a day from its well field between Beebe and Lonoke. The cost of that water is minimal. Whether the city can continue to draw from that source and increase the amount taken instead of buying from Central Arkansas Water in the next few years at a much higher cost, will depend in great part on the attitude of the people who live near the well field, including the customers of Grand Prairie and Bayou II water associations, who are founding members of the LWPWA. The LWPWA has taken over the Lonoke / White Water Project that has been in the planning stages for more than a decade and hopes to build the project and supply water from Greers Ferry Lake to much of the central part of the state north of the Arkansas River.

The Cabot commission’s vote to become a member of LWPWA was unanimous despite the doubt voiced by commission members that the project will succeed.

If it is built, that project could be years away. But Cabot’s pressing need is the permission of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (formerly Soil and Water) to draw more than the three million gallons a day allowed in the city’s state-issued permit.

A geological study expected to be completed by the end of November could show that the aquifer where the wells are located is not being drawn down by the wells, but the commission doesn’t want opposition from neighbors to outweigh the results of the study when it’s time for Natural Re-sources to consider its permit application.

To that end, the commission voted to pay LWPWA its $9,000 membership fee even though they said the future of the Lonoke/ White Water Project is uncertain.

To get Cabot to join, the LWPWA made several concessions, including giving Cabot a seat on the board without requiring that the city pay any of the $750,000 cost of buying the project assets from Community Water Systems, which controlled the project until they lost it in a lawsuit filed by Grand Prairie and Bayou II.

Ben Rice, the Jacksonville law-yer who represents LWPWA, said Jacksonville, which joined last month, also would be given the same considerations. Cabot didn’t join LWPWA earlier this month when first asked because some commissioners were reluctant to pay money without gaining a seat at the board of directors. The project might be a long shot, but it’s not dead and the Cabot commission wants input into the direction it goes. Like Cabot, LWPWA also needs something and so its leaders were willing to renegotiate.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers decides who gets water from the state lakes and how much they get. The Mid Arkansas Water Alliance, made up of 27 members including Central Arkansas Water, Cabot and the individual members of LWPWA, is expected to get half the 30-million gallons a day allocation available at Greers Ferry Lake. LWPWA wants half of what’s left.