We all live in a watershed — the land area that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream or lake — and our individual actions directly affect it. The Elk River drains an area that includes parts of three states — Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Big Sugar and Little Sugar Creeks merge near Pineville, Missouri, to form Elk River, then forms the Elk River Arm of Grand Lake just west of the Oklahoma state line. Other major tributaries include Buffalo Creek, Indian Creek and Patterson Creek.
The watershed encompasses 1,032 square miles in an area of which 866 square miles are in southwest Missouri. The streams tend to run in a westerly direction. The watershed is bound on the east by the James River and White River basins, on the north by Shoal Creek and Spring River basins, and on the south and west by Honey Creek, Eucha Lake and Illinois River basins.
All streams in the Elk River watershed are approved by the government for aquatic life protection, fishing and livestock and wildlife watering. The permanent flowing segments of Elk River, Buffalo Creek, Indian Creek, and Big Sugar Creek are approved for swimming and boating, too.
The U.S. Census Bureau's July 1999 estimate of the human population in the Elk River watershed is approximately 60,000 people and includes all or part of the following communities: Bentonville, Bella Vista, Gravette, Sulphur Spring and Pea Ridge, Arkansas; and Neosho, Anderson, Goodman, Lanagan, Tiff City, Noel, Pineville, Jane, Powell, Long View, Rocky Comfort, Stella, Boulder City, Ridgely, Fairview, and Wheaton, Missouri.
The Elk River watershed map (right) appears courtesy of Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council and Newton-McDonald County office of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
In 1998, the Elk River Watershed was identified as impaired by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). The principal impairments are due to excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen). The Watershed includes the following waterways and their tributaries: Elk River; Little Sugar Creek; Buffalo Creek; Big Sugar Creek; Indian Creek (three branches); and, Patterson Creek.
What are the problems? According to the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), there are many potential sources of excess nutrients — both point and nonpoint, but the main sources are thought to be the result of livestock production and population growth. Point sources can be addressed through enforceable state permits, but nonpoint source reductions must be achieved through voluntary and individual efforts and by organizations like the ERWIA.
Rapid population growth in the area will increase the excess nutrient problem and add water pollution risks from 1) sediments during land clearance and construction; and, 2) polluted storm water runoff from more impervious surfaces like roofs, roadways and parking lots.
What are the solutions? Effective use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) will help minimize the impact of rapid population growth and development. Existing laws and regulations for water quality and pollution prevention should be enforced. Informed citizens and local volunteer efforts will help establish watershed management plans. These plans will identify causes and sources of pollution; estimate expected load reductions; describe non-point source control measures; estimate financial and technical assistance needed, include an implementation schedule; expand public information and participation; and monitor, evaluate and revise the watershed plan as necessary.