Area water, air quality above average, officials say during Earth Day observance


Today marks the 42nd annual observance of Earth Day.

Intended as a day to highlight environmentally friendly practices and promote lifestyles that limit negative impacts on the environment, Earth Day continues to serve as a reminder of how far environmental protections have advanced in the more than four decades since the first event was held April 22, 1970.

The Pine Bluff area is doing a good job overall on environmental quality issues, according to various regulatory agencies, local government officials and business representatives.

Water quality

Lester Melton, general manager for United Water Arkansas in Pine Bluff, said that the city’s water supply is drawn from the Sparta Aquifer.

“We have 12 wells that are about 860 feet deep,” Melton said. “The aquifer has been in decline for a lot of years but in the last couple of years it has come up some. It does replenish itself. More than average rainfall the last few years has helped.”

Melton said that local industry has begun to use water taken from shallower depths instead of water from the aquifer, which has also helped to stabilize that water source.

“Once the water is brought up from the aquifer we remove iron and manganese using aeration and filtration,” Melton said. “It is a continuous run process. The city uses a little over 10 million gallons of water per day.”

Melton said that after water is processed from the aquifer it is stored in tanks that hold five million gallons at a time.

“We probably have the best water in the country,” Melton said. “Just ask our customers in White Hall. Last November we turned on the tap for them. They are thrilled.”

After problems with its water supply and the high cost associated with repairing the city system, White Hall asked to be added to the United Water service area in the fall of 2011.

Wastewater

Ken Johnson, manager of the Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility, said that the city’s treatment plant is rather unique.

“We have probably the largest municipal wastewater treatment lagoon in the United States,” Johnson said. “It covers 500 acres. It is a natural system. We use very little chemicals. Occasionally we use chlorine as a disinfectant.”

Johnson said that the city processes 14 million gallons of wastewater per day.

“Think of it as an aquarium with dissolved oxygen,” Johnson said of the lagoon. “Bacteria utilizes the oxygen and consumes the material in the wastewater. It takes 90 days from the time wastewater first enters the treatment plant until it is fully processed and released into the Arkansas River.”

Johnson said that regulations require 85 percent compliance but that the Pine Bluff facility has achieved 100 percent compliance each of the past four years.

“The lagoon is made up of six different cells and the water moves from cell to cell as it goes through the treatment process,” Johnson said. “A blower system is used to provide oxygen for the plant. We have birds here including ducks and even a bald eagle. This is because we are using a natural process.”

Johnson said that the facility is in compliance with all Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act requirements.

Johnson said it is important for people to know that grease should not be poured down the drain.

“For the past few years we have tried to educate residents about not putting grease down their sink,” Johnson said. “It should be allowed to cool and then placed in the regular household trash. It clogs the sewer lines and gives us problems.”

Johnson said that federal, state and local regulations require local industry to pre-treat its water before allowing it into the municipal wastewater system.

“Before they discharge effluent to us that becomes our influent we require them to reduce the potentially harmful items including heavy metals and any other toxic compounds,” Johnson said.

Bayou Bartholomew

Katherine Benenati, public outreach division manager with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said that Bayou Bartholomew where it flows through Pine Bluff is listed as an impaired waterway.

“Several impairments to water quality have been identified in the past for this area,” Benenati said.

Benenati said that in 1998 this section of waterway was placed on the List of Impaired Waters under Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act because of the level of silt and turbidity in the water.

“In 2002, a total maximum daily load was completed for this reach of the bayou for turbidity,” Benenati said.

Benenati said that the TMDL was done to determine the amount of pollutant that the body of water can assimilate without exceeding water quality standards for that pollutant, which moved it off the impaired list.

In 2004, the section of the bayou was returned to the impaired classification for dissolved oxygen in the water, while in 2006 the same section was found to contain lead as well.

In 2008, both dissolved oxygen and lead levels in this section of bayou continued to exceed water quality standards.

“A plan is being developed to address the lead in the water,” Benenati said. “It was determined to be from an agricultural source in 2006 but in 2008 the lead origin was listed as unknown.”

Benenati said that a total maximum daily load report is currently being prepared in relation to the lead content.

Air quality

Benenati said that air quality in Arkansas is within all regulatory guidelines.

“There are no areas in Arkansas that exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” Benenati said. “Arkansas has good air from an air quality standpoint. We meet attainment for all of these criteria.”