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CAW prepares to raise water rates starting in January; Arkansas Water Plan Update Team calculating state’s water supply numbers

Central Arkansas Water’s (CAW) new Schedule of Water Rates will be effective for water service billed on or after Jan. 1, 2014, for its 125,000 customers in the metropolitan area. Customers are receiving an in-home copy of the rate schedule as a billing statement insert.

The average water bill for inside-city residential customers will increase 48 cents per month.

“The new rate schedule reflects the utility’s anticipated costs for operations, maintenance, and capital improvements which include slight increases for utility customers,” shares Graham W. Rich, P.E., CAW’s Chief Executive Officer.

“Even with these increases, CAW’s rates remain among the lowest in Arkansas and the United States, according to independent rate comparisons,” Rich said.

The rate schedule for 2013 and 2014 was approved by a CAW Commission Resolution on Nov. 8, 2012, followed by a public hearing for customers, as well as a 90-day review by the Little Rock Board of Directors and North Little Rock City Council.

While CAW is preparing for its slight water increase, state water authorities across the state are trying to determine how much water the state has within its borders.

The Arkansas Water Plan Update Team, the guiding force concerning the state’s policy for long-term water management, is currently calculating the supply of water in the state.

“This information will bring collected data, science and public input together to define water demands, supply, and potential solutions to meet our needs for the next 40 years,” said Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) Water Resources Manager Edward Swaim, who leads the effort to update the state’s 1990 Water Plan.

A team of agency employees, scientists, engineers, consultants, and volunteers from various business, agricultural, and natural resource sectors is calculating the supply of water in Arkansas. The group has completed the portion of the Update that covers the current and projected “demand” for water in the state. This determines how much water Arkansas is using now, and how much it will need through the year 2050.

“We have an abundance of water in the state, but sometimes not where we need it. The updated Plan will guide the use of Arkansas’s water resources, while protecting our fish and wildlife resources, for the next four decades,” Swaim explained.

Water supply numbers provided by ANRC are staggering: Arkansas receives 43 to 69 inches of rainfall annually; there are more than 600,000 acres of lakes in the state; Corps of Engineers impoundments, state-owned reservoirs and other lakes, store over five trillion gallons of water; and, the state has 9,700 miles of rivers and streams that have a total daily flow of approximately 280 billion gallons.

Striking a balance between withdrawals and water remaining in rivers, streams, and lakes is an essential part of the Update. “Especially in our flowing streams, we must be aware of the relationship of withdrawals to fish and wildlife habitat as well as public water supplies, industries, wastewater dischargers, and farms,” Swaim said.

When it comes to groundwater, the numbers are also huge. In some areas, particularly the Delta and the Grand Prairie, water is removed from aquifers for crop irrigation faster than it can be replenished. There are 12 major aquifers used for water supply. The two largest are the Mississippi River Valley Alluvial Aquifer located in east Arkansas’s Delta and the Sparta/Memphis Aquifer in eastern and southern Arkansas.

“The Alluvial Aquifer can sustain over three billion gallons of water use per day. However, in 2010 over seven billion gallons were removed daily. In some areas the water table has been lowered, and farmers have drilled deeper wells to get the water they need. This results are increased costs for fuel and electricity. The Sparta Aquifer has similar issues. It is estimated that 87 million gallons of water use per day can be sustained in the Sparta, but more than 190 million gallons are being pumped daily,” Swaim concluded.

To follow the progress of the Arkansas Water Plan Update and find out how to become an active participant in the process visit the website at http://arwaterplan.arkansas.gov. Also check the site for information regarding past and present public meetings.

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