Arkansas Aquifer Levels Dropping One Inch Per Year

JULY 20, 2004 -- Posted at: 8:15pm CDT

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY - Research from the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission shows that ground-water is lowering at a rate of about an inch per year. Those results were figured partly from a 10 year study that followed water usage in wells stretching from Clay County down to Phillips County which tap into the Alluvial Aquifer. Cross, Poinsett and Craighead Counties took 3 of the top 4 spots in the amount of water level decline. In Craighead County, it dropped nearly 9 feet on average.

"Water is the life blood of all farms in this area. Without water, they won't be in existence," said Jerry Don Clark, a Craighead County farmer for 15 years.

Clark's 1250 acres of rice and soybeans requires thousands of gallons of water in order to grow. Five years ago, the Clark family decided to take a relatively new, 100 acre approach to irrigation.

Clark added, "The reservoir, we basically use the facility to store water.. to collect and store the water in the winter time when we get the rains."

Pumps and underground pipes distribute the water. Another water conservation method used the Clark farm is called "tail water recovery".

"We have drainage ditches that go completely around our farm, and we can drain water off of any of our fields, and pick it back up with our pumps," Clark explained.

Motors draw in water from the ditches, and pump it through pipes underneath the reservoir levee. The water dumps into the reservoir. If both pumps are running, 11,000 gallons per minute of collected and recycled water is added. That system is now the main source of water for crop irrigation on the farm, but there are four underground wells in place that can be used if needed.

Kevin Hoke has similar wells for his soybeans and cotton. He uses white poly pipe for three different types of water conservation techniques called furrow, border and side-inlet irrigation.

"When we used the poly pipe down the side, or side-inlet irrigation, we saw as much as a 30% reduction, not only in the amount of water that we used, but also in the amount of energy it took to get the water there," said Hoke.

The conservation steps farmers are taking are important, but Todd Fugitt, a representative from the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, said river water may need to be used.

"We look to find ways to access surface water, and 25% of that amount can be used for irrigation or other water use needs," Fugitt explained.

Jerry Don Clark believes their reservoir is an investment over the life of his family's farm, and thinks some farms won't exist in the future unless similar practices are used.

Clark added, "I would like to see more of them in the area. I think if eventually we could get enough of them, it could make a difference on the ground water tables."