Issues and Challenges

Challenges of Water Resource Management 

Barriers to successful watershed management and restoration efforts often include a lack of ownership among its residents and a feeling that a particular stakeholder is to blame for all water quality issues.

Watershed management is bigger than any one industry or stakeholder group. It is important to move the process of watershed management to a more meaningful level of public understanding, discussion and action. Arkansas and Oklahoma have watershed-based management plans that have been accepted by EPA Region 6.  The IRWP was funded by Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and the Walton Family Foundation to develop a nine-element plan that we are committed to help implement.   Download a copy of the Upper Illinois River Watershed-based Management Plan below.  

The Arkansas Water Plan (AWP) is currently under development with five state water resources planning regions being addressed in the 2014 AWP update. 

Click here for Draft of Statewide Recommendations as of April 25, 2014

Issues of the Watershed

According to the Upper Illinois River Watershed Based Plan, there are about 1,100 miles of streams and about 103 miles, or approximately 10%, have impaired stream reaches.  Sources of impairment as identified in the 2008 303(d) list include pathogens, sediment, phosphorous and nitrate.  The goal of the IRWP is to help UIRW waterbodies attain their designated uses and be removed from the 303(d) list. The UIRWBP addressed 3 sources of pollutants – pathogens, sediment and nitrates and identified potential causes of impairment in four main categories: (1) Urban: storm water runoff, illicit discharges, waste water treatment plants, road side cuts, stream bank erosion, domestic pets; (2) Rural:  unpaved roads, failing septic systems, wildlife, streambank erosion; (3) Agricultural: animal feeding operations, pasture and manure management, cattle in streams; (4) Forested: unpaved roads, road side cuts, fertilizer application, wildlife.

The IRWP’s 2013-2015 Action Plan follows the schedules and milestones of the UIRW WBP (Ch. 10) that will contribute to achieving water quality and stakeholder education goals of the plan.  The general description of goals includes implementing best management practice (BMP) demonstration projects, monitoring water quality improvements, and providing education and outreach to urban, rural, agricultural and forested landowners, businesses, government officials, students and the general public.  Recommendations for the education and outreach portion of the watershed plan also gave guidance to solicit, engage, and raise the public’s awareness as watershed stewards.

The UIRW WBP also noted there is a need to address groundwater protection since the Illinois River region has sensitive karst topography and recommendations for impacts and strategies for groundwater protection should be developed as part of ongoing adaptive management of this comprehensive watershed-based plan.  The WBP also concluded that support and participation from landowners, municipalities, counties, industries, etc. is critical to achieving water quality standards.   

Problem/Need Statement

A major factor for the future of the Illinois River Watershed is an increase in urban planning areas from 22% of the watershed area in 2006 to over 58% in 2050, approximately tripling the current incorporated area within the watershed.  Population growth is projected to double during this timeframe, with the majority of population growth to occur in the major cities along the headwater streams (UIRWBP p. 2-18).  The UIRW WBP noted that future increases in population will prompt changes in land use and land cover, which, without proper watershed management, will negatively impact water quality and quantity. As with most urban areas, impervious surfaces dominate the landscape and increase the potential for non-point source pollution (NPS). NPS can include hydrocarbons, nutrients, sediment, metals, pesticides and litter in addition to increased volume and velocity of water flowing rapidly and directly to creeks and streams. The IRWP seeks to help reduce non-point source pollution by implementing Low Impact Development (LID) and Green Infrastructure (GI) conservation and restoration projects in the growing urban areas of the watershed. The use of LID/GI practices lessens the potential for pollutants to enter streams, enhancing the entire ecosystem of the area and thereby protecting downstream as well.  

In addition to urban NPS, the IRWP seeks to implement, and advocates for. best management practices for rural, agricultural and forested lands.  Over the last decade, pasture lands have reduced in area from 64% to 46% of the watershed as a result of pastures being converted into urban development or restored to forested lands. The forested areas have increased from 29% to 41% over the past decade because of an increase in both designated forests and herbaceous vegetation growth in the watershed. These land use changes, from 1992 to 2006, show the dramatic and dynamic nature of land use in the Upper Illinois River Watershed.

The IRWP and the region’s watershed management strategies must adapt to changes in land use and land cover which may alter the selection of appropriate management strategies to address water quality concerns. Response to these land use changes in the watershed gives tremendous opportunities to build on the region’s history of working together to solve common problems.