Central Arkansas Water set to acquire over 2,000 acres in Lake Maumelle watershed in historically large purchase

Two tracts of land, representing a combined 2,023 acres in the Lake Maumelle watershed, are shown in this November 2023 illustration. Central Arkansas Water
will acquire the tracts as part of the utility’s efforts to safeguard a key source of drinking water for residents of the Little Rock metropolitan area. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette illustration)
Two tracts of land, representing a combined 2,023 acres in the Lake Maumelle watershed, are shown in this November 2023 illustration. Central Arkansas Water will acquire the tracts as part of the utility’s efforts to safeguard a key source of drinking water for residents of the Little Rock metropolitan area. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette illustration)

Central Arkansas Water will acquire a combined 2,023 acres across two tracts in the Lake Maumelle watershed as part of the utility's efforts to safeguard a key source of drinking water for residents of the Little Rock metropolitan area.

Buying the two tracts to the west of the lake from timberland owner PotlatchDeltic is meant to protect the Maumelle River and its headwater streams by preventing development or other activities that could degrade water quality.

In terms of acreage, it represents the largest single purchase of property from one owner in Lake Maumelle's history, including the lands that were acquired to create the lake, according to Bryan Rupar, Central Arkansas Water's land conservation coordinator.

The total cost of the acquisition is $9.7 million plus closing costs.

Members of Central Arkansas Water's board of commissioners gave approval in a voice vote with no dissent during a meeting on Nov. 16.

The so-called Falls Tract, the larger of the two, consists of 1,966 acres in Perry County.

The name derives from a waterfall series along that stretch of the Maumelle River, Raven Lawson, Central Arkansas Water's watershed protection manager, told commissioners during a presentation prior to the vote.

"Not only is it significant for protection of water quality, but it is a jewel and very picturesque and postcard-like," she said.

The property encompasses 8.5 miles of the Maumelle River and its headwater streams, including 2.9 miles of the Maumelle River proper and 1.6 miles of Lyon's Branch, Lawson said. The tract captures all but about one-tenth of Lyon's Branch, according to Lawson.

The tract abuts U.S. Forest Service land in the Ouachita National Forest.

Lawson said the Falls Tract parcels have been a target for acquisition since the utility created its scoring systems for property in the watershed in 2014-2015. Following recent scoring revisions, they remained some of the highest-ranking parcels with regard to both ecology and development potential, according to Lawson.

Central Arkansas Water purchased a smaller property of roughly 30 acres to the east of the southern end of the 1,966-acre tract earlier this year.

The other tract consists of 57 acres in Pulaski County near the Maumelle River and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. The purchase adds to Central Arkansas Water's contiguous ownership along a portion of the trail, according to slides shown to commissioners.

"This will increase the buffer for both the trail system and the Maumelle River," Lawson said.

The U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program will support the purchase with $6 million in grant funding.

An additional $1.64 million will come from the utility's proceeds from 2020 "green bonds" while $2.06 million will be drawn from the utility's 2023 and 2024 watershed protection fee budget allocations.

After accounting for the grant funding, the total cost per acre to Central Arkansas Water will be roughly $1,829.

Under the current structure of the watershed protection fee, which first took effect in 2009, Central Arkansas Water customers on the typical five-eighths-inch-diameter meter are charged $0.90 per month.

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