Residents Voice Opinions
By Andrea Love
TFW Contributing Writer
More than 60 residents attended a public meeting on state water regulations last Wednesday at the Clarion Inn in Fayetteville. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality held a public meeting to hear comments about a revision to Regulation 2. The law — which ADEQ uses to establish and enforce water quality standards for surface water — protects streams, lakes and rivers. The Clean Water Act requires states to review water quality standards at least every three years, and Arkansas’s Reg. 2 is due for a possible revision in 2013.
The meeting on Wednesday was informative and collaborative; ADEQ officials explained the process they have adopted to make changes to the regulation and invited the public to suggest revisions. Officials explained that next year, a small group of about 20 to 25 stakeholders will meet in person to synthesize public suggestions and their unique interests in surface water regulation. These individuals will represent different sanctions of public interest in these regulations. Although the stakeholder groups have not been finalized, ADEQ provided some possibilities on Wednesday, including Industry and Agriculture, Drinking Water and Health, and Recreation.
Many Fayetteville residents made comments ranging from highly specific Reg. 2 changes to general concerns over the agency’s decisions. The first resident to comment expressed deep concern with the effect of natural gas fracking chemicals on surface water quality, and many other speakers echoed this apprehension. Diana Rivers wondered if fracking does not pollute water, then “why is it exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act?”
John Pennington, an employee of the Cooperative Extension Service, brought up an issue with Regulation 2.304. Titled “Physical Alteration of Habitat,” this regulation bans the physical alteration of waterways that are deemed to be an “extraordinary resource water, ecologically sensitive waterbody, or natural and scenic waterbody.” Pennington pointed out that, due to the sporadic rainfall patterns of recent years and subsequent variations in stream flow throughout the year, it is difficult to demonstrate if these protected waters have been physically altered under the current regulation.
Pennington was concerned increased gas drilling in the national forests could lead to physical alteration of certain waterways that should be protected under Reg. 2.304, and called for a “better” description of how to analyze whether physical alteration has taken place.
Two individuals were confused about the regulatory separation of ground water from surface water. As a City Council member pointed out, in Arkansas, rivers and streams are spring-fed, and so we “have to have ground water to have surface water.”
Others criticized ADEQ for not having stronger protection policies in place, and advocated for only stronger regulations moving forward. The residents who made comments represented a cross section of Arkansans: government employees, parents, construction workers, representatives of environmental groups, and people who love outdoor recreation, among others.
These comments from the public will help shape the direction of the revision process in 2013. Five of these public meetings are being held throughout the state in the month of February. The next opportunity for public comment is happening Feb. 23 in El Dorado. For details about this and the other meetings, please visit www.adeq.state.ar.us/poa/public_calendar.asp
Additionally, those wishing to send comments directly to ADEQ may do so by emailing Reg2Listening-Comments@adeq.state.ar.us or by mailing comments to Sarah Clem, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Water Division, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118. All written comments need to be received by 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 29.