Lake Conway summit expands focus on varied problems

MAYFLOWER, Ar (AGFC) - Lake Conway's long-standing assortment of problems involve more than the lake itself. It's a watershed issue, participants in a meeting last week agreed.

It was a Lake Conway summit, and participants ranged from top state officials to local elected officeholders and to fishermen.

State Rep. Jane English of North Little Rock advocated the meeting, according to Mike Armstrong, chief of fisheries with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. English represents District 42 of the Arkansas House of Representatives. This includes northern Pulaski County and southern Faulkner County.

Armstrong said, "Rep. English told us there needed to be a holistic approach to the Lake Conway problems, and that it was time to quit pointing fingers (of blame)."

Lake Conway is owned by the AGFC and is the nation's largest lake built by a state agency. Completed in 1951, the lake has been a center of concern for flooding downstream roads, high water in homes around the lake, fluctuating water levels and excessive vegetation.

For nearly eight years, the Lake Conway Citizens Advisory Committee has met with AGFC staff members to work on the assortment of problems. Progress has been made on a number of them, but these are in the lake itself.

The summit participants said that the lake may be the center of issues, but many of them involve the entire watershed.

Armstrong said, "We agreed that the lake integrates everything that happens in its watershed."

When Lake Conway was built, the city of Conway had about 8,500 residents. Today, Conway's population is above 55,000, with extensive construction in the lake's watershed replacing trees and grass with asphalt and concrete. The nearby towns of Mayflower and Vilonia have also experienced major growth.

Two groups were formed at the summit. A long-range group will focus on watershed problems. A short range group will look at the known problems, especially the flooding of Grassy Lake Road and evaluating the current water level management plan. Armstrong said, "We know what the problems are, but we need to find the money to solve them."

Armstrong said, "Ultimately what we are talking about is quality of life for the residents in this area. Conway and Faulkner County will continue to grow. We want to help insure that this growth is consistent with a healthy watershed, and Lake Conway will be viewed as a positive asset for Faulkner County."

During the meeting, AGFC deputy director David Goad said he wanted the participants to know that the agency wants to be a good neighbor to all of the property owners in the area. "We have a lot of partners around the lake," Goad said. "We value what they have to say and take it into consideration when we make decisions about the management of Lake Conway," he added.

The summit participants will meet again in mid-September.

Participants in the summit meeting included Sen. Gilbert Baker; Theresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality; Dan Flowers, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department; Jim McKenzie of Metroplan; Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin; Earl Smith of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission; mayors of Conway, Mayflower and Vilonia, representatives of the Arkansas Department of Health; Faulkner County Public Facilities Board; Lake Conway Homeowners Association; Rodgers Estates; and Dr. Richard Collins, biology professor at the University of Central Arkansas who said he was representing "the common angler."