Lake Fayetteville water study could lead to recreational swimming

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

An upcoming water quality study could lead to recreational swimming opportunities at Lake Fayetteville.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last week heard preliminary details about the study which was first proposed by City Council Member Teresa Turk in March.

At the time, Turk said the goal is to eventually have a plan on how to improve the water quality of the lake so that residents can eat the fish they catch there, and even swim in the water one day.

The council voted unanimously to move forward with the plan, which directed city staff to hire a consultant and to work with stakeholders as well as local, regional and national environmental partners.

Alan Pugh, a staff engineer with the city, said the project will be the first of its kind for Lake Fayetteville.

“In the past, there have been a lot of different studies done that were kind of disjointed,” said Pugh. “A lot of those were done through the University of Arkansas with water quality, but none of them kind of combined and did an overall watershed plan.”

Pugh said local firm Olsson was selected for the job, which will include collecting information from past studies and gathering new data.

Part of the plan, he said, is to take sediment samples to determine if pollutants are present and whether that sediment can safely be removed.

Pugh said he doesn’t anticipate finding anything hazardous, but it’s likely that heavy levels of phosphorous are present.

Phosphorus is the main cause of algae blooms, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The blooms produce algal toxins which can be harmful to human and animal health.

The city on at least three occasions in the past few years has issued temporary warnings urging residents to stay clear of the water at Lake Fayetteville due to high levels of an algae toxin called microcystin.

Measurements over 10 micrograms per liter of microcystin require notification to the public and other organizations. While the numbers weren’t extremely high, 11 micrograms per liter have been found in some samples in the past.

During the warning periods, residents are advised to avoid areas of algae accumulation, and to use caution when contacting lake water. If contact is made with the water, it’s been advised to wash with clean, treated water afterwards. Pet owners are urged to not let pets eat dried algae or enter the lake water during warning periods since pets tend to drink it.

Stakeholders identified for potential help with the project so far include the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, NWA Land Trust, Natural Heritage Association, Lake Fayetteville Watershed Partnership, and the Watershed Conservation Resource Center. And because a large portion of the watershed is outside the Fayetteville city limits, it’s possible municipalities such as Springdale or even the county could be included.

Pugh said the estimated cost of the study is about $200,000. A funding source hasn’t yet been discussed, but once things are finalized, a proposal will head to the City Council for approval.