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Corps of Engineers responds to Grand Prairie Project critics

Published Feb. 26, 2004
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Feb. 26, 2004 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis
District, responded today to charges in a lawsuit filed by opponents to the Grand Prairie Area
Demonstration Project.

The Memphis District is confident that its environmental documentation fully complies
with law and regulation. Exhaustive studies and detailed economic analyses show that the
project, as proposed, protects the aquifer systems and does not harm the important natural
resources of the White River and its adjacent wetlands.

The Grand Prairie project is designed to protect the Sparta Aquifer, which is primarily
used for drinking water, and the Alluvial Aquifer, which interacts with the area streams and
wetlands and provides for continued irrigated agriculture. A recent U.S. Geological Survey
study indicates that the aquifer levels are in serious decline. The project will protect the aquifers
by increasing the irrigation efficiency and storage on area farms, reducing the ground water use
to a level that will allow the aquifer to recharge over time, and importing excess water from the
White River after the needs for fish and wildlife, navigation and water quality have been met.

Studies indicated that the project will not have significant adverse environmental
impacts. Furthermore, there are many positive benefits associated with project features such as
those that flood cropland for waterfowl and restore approximately 3,000 acres of canal rights-ofway
in native prairie grasses. Though project opponents criticize the amount of water to be
withdrawn from the White River, less than two percent of the total flow of the river will be
removed. Additionally, the amount of water removed will be controlled in any given month to
ensure that the needs of the river for fish and wildlife, navigation and water quality are met first.
The project will not harm wetlands, fisheries or waterfowl hunting on the White River.

The economic analysis for the project was conducted in close cooperation with the
Natural Resources Conservation Service because of their expertise in irrigation. The analysis
assumes that when the aquifer is depleted, the area could still maintain 23 percent in irrigated
crops. The rest of the area would be forced to convert to dry land farming with significantly
decreased economic benefits to the area. 

This assumption is based on extensive modeling by the U.S. Geological Survey and the
University of Memphis’ Ground Water Institute. The difference between current and future
conditions reflects a loss of over $40 million annually in farm receipts from the economy. The
effect of continued groundwater depletion on agribusiness, jobs, and the tax base in the region
would be devastating to the area’s economy.

The Grand Prairie Project, originally authorized in 1950, has been under study for more
than 50 years. Work was restarted in the 1980s following a drought. Studies, including a special
study led by the Arkansas Governor’s Task Force on Water Resources with project opponents
serving as part of an oversight committee, have all reached the same conclusion. These studies
have examined numerous alternatives, including those proposed by opponents to the project. The
only alternative that would protect the Sparta and Alluvial aquifers and allow for continued
irrigated agriculture is a combination of efficiency and storage measures, use of ground water at
its safe yield and the importation of excess surface water. The studies have concluded that the
White River is the appropriate source to address the critical ground water situation in the Grand

Lori Dabbs of the White River Irrigation District that serves, with the state of Arkansas, as local
sponsors said in support of the project, “Rice production on the Grand Prairie has formed a 
unique culture here since it began at the turn of the 19th century. This combination of agriculture
and the ducks that winter here is being threatened.

“It’s relatively simple,” she continued. “No water, no rice, no ducks. We brought
environmental agencies and organizations to the table very early in the planning process in order
to address their concerns, minimize impacts and integrate project features that would benefit the
environment. Representatives from many of these agencies now serve on an Environmental
Review Team that monitors on-farm activity and will eventually monitor the distribution system.
The ground water situation has become so critical that we must act now.”

“Extensive studies have been performed leading to development of the project,” Col.
Jack V. Scherer, the Corps’ Memphis District Engineer said. “We are interested to see what new
facts the opponents have to back up their claims and how those facts will result in a feasible

The next event will be the release of an environmental assessment of project
modifications. None of these project modifications will effect the planned pumping station on
the White River. The environmental assessment process has been ongoing and was initiated
prior to the suit and all changes coordinated with the project environmental team. These
modifications formulated during the final design process actually improve the efficiency of the

Col. Scherer said, “In conjunction with the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation
Commission and the White River Irrigation District, the people who are most effected by delays,
we intend to move forward because the ground water situation is so critical.”
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Release no. 04-05