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Water, water everywhere: Fort Smith increases water supply with construction of $37.5 million Lee Creek reservoir.

Cities need water to grow.

Ask the residents of Fort Smith.

Finally, the west Arkansas city has overcome the severe water shortages that hampered recent growth. Community leaders are hopeful that a plentiful water supply will allow the area to blossom economically.

Lee Creek Reservoir, completed last month at a cost of $37.5 million, is expected to produce almost 10 million gallons of water daily for 130,000 residents of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. Those residents formerly relied on Lake Fort Smith and Lake Shepard Springs for their drinking water.

An increased demand for water in the late 1980s led to both voluntary and mandatory water rationing.

"Water is an essential element, Strib Boynton, Fort Smith's city administrator, says of community growth.

More than a dozen communities in Sebastian, Crawford and Washington counties in Arkansas and Sequoyah and LeFlore counties in Oklahoma rely on the Fort Smith water system.

"The city's three reservoirs have the capacity to produce 30 million gallons of water on an average day and as much as 45 million gallons on a peak day," Boynton says.

The Lee Creek project, financed by a temporary 1-cent sales tax, will be paid for by early 1993. That's two years earlier than projected. The tax was approved by a wide margin by Fort Smith voters in 1988 with the promise that it would expire once the reservoir was paid off.

The completion of Lee Creek Reservoir closely follows the completion of James Fork Reservoir. The $7 million James Fork project is operated by the South Sebastian County Water Users Association.

"It currently produces 1 million gallons per day, although it has a capacity of producing 3 million gallons per day," Boynton says of James Fork.

The association serves residents of rural south Sebastian County who previously relied on Fort Smith for water.

Exploring Alternatives

Fort Smith officials began looking for solutions to the city's water problems in the early 1980s. Once the Lee Creek project was chosen as a viable solution, the city obtained approval from state and federal agencies.

The project drew fire from environmental groups. An extensive environmental impact study headed off possible litigation, however.

The dam is 1,000 feet wide and creates a reservoir that covers 640 acres, 40 of which are in Oklahoma.

"Those problems |rationing~ are now behind us," Boynton says.

Future projects might include blending water from the Arkansas River and Lee Creek, drilling wells and possibly impounding Cedar Creek, Brazil Creek and the Poteau River.

"We think low-cost water is going to be the most important factor for economic growth as we move into the 21st century," Boynton says.
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Title Annotation:Fort Smith, Arkansas
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 3, 1992
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