History and Status of the White River Basin, Arkansas, Minimum Flows Project

Monday, September 9, 2013: 2:00 PM
Izard (Statehouse Convention Center)
Michael Armstrong , Administration, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Little Rock, AR
Federal hydro/flood control dams on the White River system in Arkansas have a profound environmental impact on their downstream tailwaters.  Flow and temperature alterations unsuitable for the native fisheries and led to the introduction of non-native rainbow trout in order to provide recreational angling opportunities.  Successful trout introductions below the five dams along the White River system resulted in a multi-million dollar recreational fishing industry dependent on water releases for non-fisheries related purposes.  Base flow during non-generation periods is comprised largely of leakage and flow from small house unit generator subjecting tailwaters to wide temperature variances and a confined base wetted perimeter for benthic food production.  To address these problems, Congress passed the Water Resource Development Act of 1999 re-allocating reservoir storage in the five authorized White River projects to provide an increased minimum flow below the project dams.  Congress further directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study whether minimum flows were technically feasible, environmentally acceptable and economically justified, before minimum flow could be implemented.  The White River Minimum Flows study was completed in 2004 and found minimum flow met all three criteria at all five White River system projects despite strong opposition from hydropower interests.  After a process of negotiation with hydropower and lake recreational interests, Congress passed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act which directed the Corps of Engineers to implement minimum flows at Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork at full federal expense, except a local sponsor would pay all costs for modifying lakeside facilities impacted by higher reservoir pool levels.  The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission accepted local sponsorship responsibility in 2011 and completed facility modifications at both lakes in May 2013.  Implementation of minimum flows below both Norfork and Bull Shoals Lake is anticipated by the summer 2013.  Increased minimum flows in the White River are expected to help stabilize water temperatures and increase the base wetted perimeter by thirty-three percent. .