The White River and its entire basin became the second watershed to receive designation as a “National Blueway” at a ceremony in Little Rock, Ark., Jan. 9. The first was the Connecticut River; however the White River Watershed is the first to undergo the full nomination, evaluation and recognition process.
Established in 2012 by the Department of the Interior, the National Blueways System places national emphasis on the value of an approach to river conservation that considers all the activities and uses within the watershed and the effectiveness of local partner collaboration for project planning and delivery, according to Shawn Phillips, a planning supervisor with the Mississippi Valley Division’s Regional Planning and Environmental Division South.
Participation is entirely voluntary and locally-driven. The designation does not add additional regulations or requirements, nor does it change private property or water rights. Federal, state and local authorities are not affected.
“Locally driven partnerships that include diverse interest groups working together were a key factor behind this designation,” said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. “We hope this news and the momentum it causes will bring new partners that can help build an even brighter future for people and nature in this watershed.”
The National Blueways System stems from the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative launched by President Obama in April 2010 to develop a national 21st century conservation and recreation agenda. The initiative aims to reconnect Americans with the great outdoors through jobs, service, recreation and education. A keystone of this initiative is for various Federal agencies to work together and alongside state and local governments, and non-governmental groups to conserve our National
“From kayaking on the Dismal Swamp Canal in Virginia to moosehunting with paralyzed Veterans in Alaska, the America’s Great Outdoors initiative is gaining momentum throughout the country.
Our work across America’s abundant recreation sites is educating our youth and communities about the health benefits and job advancement opportunities related to conservation and outdoor recreation,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).
The Lower White River/Cache River is one of three pilot projects. The White River Basin study authority is the foundation for USACE to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors effort, said Phillips. An interagency workgroup has identified strategic goals and specific objectives for the AGO effort in the Lower White River Basin (which includes the Cache River).
From the study, specific and general recommendations will be made for additional efforts and management measures that may be implemented by the USACE or partner Federal, state, or local agencies or groups. It is an “umbrella” study for the basin that will identify additional projects and sub-basin management plans. The product will be delivered within 3 years and under $3
million, according to Phillips.
Flowing 722 miles from its headwaters in Arkansas’s Boston Mountains, the White River runs north into Missouri before coursing south through the Ozarks of Arkansas to the Delta and into the Mississippi River in southeast Arkansas. Its watershed encompasses 17.8 million acres, and the water in the White River and its tributaries and reservoirs serve as a source of drinking water for many of the 1.2 million people living here. It also provides water for irrigation and agriculture, which represents the greatest economic impact in the watershed, followed by recreation-based tourism.
Watersheds in the basin include Big Creek, Cache River, Lower Black River, Current River, Spring River, Middle White River, Buffalo River, Bull Shoals River, James River, Bayou Des Arc, Village
Creek, Upper Black River, Eleven Point River, Strawberry River, Little Red River,
North Fork White River, Table Rock Lake and Beaver Lake.
There are two distinct regions in the basin: a hilly region located in the Ozark Uplands in north and northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri: and a deltaic region within the Mississippi alluvial Valley in eastern Arkansas. At its southern end the White River empties into the larger Mississippi River. This
connection offers access to the Nation’s extensive inland waterway system.
The White River is also one of five commercially navigable rivers in Arkansas. “We are pleased to hear of this designation, and we look forward to being a part of the sustainable economic opportunities the White River provides,” said Gene Higginbotham, executive director of the Arkansas Waterways
Commission, which is responsible for developing and protecting waterborne transportation in the state.
Conservation in the 21st Century requires an integrated water resources management approach operating across agency jurisdictions, programs, and authorities. In response, Federal agencies
are joining state, tribal and private stakeholders in a variety of conservation approaches to conserve and manage landscapes and watersheds. These groups will collaboratively identify problems/issues and propose creative solutions to better maintain and enhance the internationally significant natural
resources of the White River Basin, as well as contribute to the basin’s regional economic and recreational opportunities.
“Ultimately, this collaborative study will allow us to maintain and enhance this valuable ecosystem within a sustainable agriculture-based and recreational landscape to balance ecological, economic, and social interests for our children for generations to come,” said Phillips.