Lake Conway, bless it for fair to good to great fishing for 63 years, is a continual source of headaches and concerns, especially for folks who live around its edges.
One of them Robert Hill, spoke to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission a few days ago at its Little Rock meeting.
Hill asked for a spillway at the Lake Conway dam. Yes, that sounds simple. Almost all dams have spillways – means for excess water to go past the dam in flood events. But Conway is not most dams. Things are a bit different.
There are four basic problems with Lake Conway and its ongoing water level issues.
One, this was the first lake building project taken on by the Game and Fish Commission, and it was a learning lesson, namely, to keep an adequate buffer zone around the lake. At Lake Conway, the buffer is only 20 feet, meaning a little rise in water level past normal, and it gets on to somebody’s property, even into houses.
Two, the dam does not have big enough gates to let out water quickly when a heavy rain hits. Repeating, this was the first Game and Fish lake project.
Three, when the Arkansas River, five miles downstream, is in flood condition, water backs up to the Lake Conway dam. If the river is flooding, chances are the lake is also. But where is the excess lake water going with river water pushing against the dam? Right – it goes onto private property around the lake.
Four, Lake Conway has a large watershed, and the years of siltation has partially filled the lake. It holds much less water that it did 63 years ago, and this could get worst with the continued growth of the city of Conway and surrounding areas. As Hill told the commissioners, Conway had 8,000-plus people when the lake was built and has over 60,000 now with a projected population of 100,000 in another couple of decades.
Retired fisheries biologist Carl Perrin phrased the silting situation this way: Lake Conway’s watershed used to be trees and grass and now it is concrete and asphalt.
Hill is president of the Lake Conway Homeowners Association, formed five years ago.
The spillway suggestion is not new, and neither are the problems we’ve outlined here. If someone can come up with a workable scheme to get the silt out of the bottom of the lake, that would be wonderful and perhaps a money maker. A Game and Fish staff member commented after the meeting, “Think how rich that silt in the lake is. If you could get it out, dry it then bag it, you could sell it big time at Lowe’s and Home Depot.”
Sure, just put a dredge in the lake like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does on the Arkansas River and suck that silt right out of the lake. But there is a problem. Stumps. A dredge could not get to first base on Lake Conway because of the jillion cypress stumps just under the surface.
And you wonder why people don’t water ski on Lake Conway?
That spillway topic also has a large question mark. In flood conditions that have the river backing up to Lake Conway’s dam, where is the water flowing through the spillway going?
Just a heavy local rain that does not cause the river to flood could possibly be handled by a spillway, at least in this layman’s opinion.
Lake Conway’s headaches won’t be alleviated soon. But that should not stop anyone and everyone from trying to solve the problems.