Tuesday, June 01, 2010

EDITORIAL >>PC&E protects water supply

Finally, the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission last week acted decisively to protect the public health, which ought to be its mission 100 percent of the time. It banned the release of wastewater anywhere in the Lake Maumelle watershed. That should tie the hands of polluters not only in Pulaski County but in the extremities of Perry and Saline counties where streams reach into the watershed.

Lake Maumelle is the principal source of drinking water for some 400,000 people in central Arkansas, and the new state rule should keep some of the most pristine water in the country flowing into our faucets for many years to come. Wastewater discharge pollutes the water sources of many cities around the country. Even good treatment systems don’t filter out all the pollutants. Drugs and personal-care products that are deposited into sewer systems leach through filter systems into drinking water.

Under the rule adopted 11-0 by the commission, the staff of the Department of Environmental Quality will never grant a permit to a wastewater system to discharge anywhere in the 88,000 acres of watershed or in streams that meander into the watershed. There are no wastewater discharges into Maumelle now, which is the major reason Maumelle provides some of the purest water in the country. We don’t know what the commission would have done if an industry or a community wastewater plant had opposed the rule but we like to think the commissioners would put the public interest first.

We know of too many instances where they haven’t, most recently in favorable rulings for the big coal-powered generating plant in southwest Arkansas and merchant coal plants in north Arkansas.

Central Arkansas Water asked the commission two years ago to amend its regulations to prohibit all wastewater discharges into the watershed. As County Judge Buddy Villines observed, it’s hard for anyone to support dumping human sewage into drinking water. But it’s been done many places.

Central Arkansas is not completely assured of pristine water forever. There is still the threat of intense subdivision development on the slopes around the reservoir, which could lead to poisonous runoff into the water supply. The water utility and the county, with an assist from state legislators, blocked the worst prospects three years ago, but it will take perpetual vigilance to protect our good water.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.