Engineer Alan Fortenberry on Arkansas' Water Needs Compared to the Rest of U.S.

Alan Fortenberry is a member of the Northwest Arkansas Council and a national director with the American Water Works Association.

Fortenberry joined Beaver Water District in 1991 as plant engineer and in 2001 he was named CEO. During his tenure, he has led the expansion of the district’s facilities to 140 million gallons per day, the completion of an award-winning new water intake on Beaver Lake, construction of a new solids-handling facility, renovation of the Joe M. Steele Water Treatment Plant and construction of the administration building, which earned LEED Gold.

He has a bachelor’s in agricultural engineering and a master’s in environmental engineering, both from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Q: Can you elaborate a bit on the purpose and scope of the Beaver Water District?

A: The district was created in 1959 under Act 114 of 1957 to specifically contract with the Corps of Engineers to secure storage in Beaver Lake for the drinking water needs of its customers in Benton and Washington counties. Our four primary customers are Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, which serve about 300,000 people. The district’s sole source of water is Beaver Lake, and the district currently owns storage capacity in the lake that, based on recent studies, is sufficient to serve our needs past the year 2050.

What has the district done to adapt to the explosive growth in northwest Arkansas?

The district has always been proactive about developing the infrastructure required to stay ahead of the curve regarding the water demands of our customers. During a 10-year span the district expanded its intake and treatment facilities, a project that totaled more than $104 million. The district has maintained a close relationship with our customers in order to anticipate the future requirements that they may have for water.

What are BWD’s big picture plans for expanding water sources for NWA? How much capacity remains for Beaver?

Beaver Lake is an outstanding resource with considerable and reliable capacity. In addition to the district, three smaller water wholesalers take water from the lake. In total, Beaver Lake is the source of drinking water for more than 400,000 people. The good news is that there is sufficient storage in the lake to meet needs for the next 40 years or so. However, about 80 percent of the useful storage in the lake is used for hydropower generation, and at some point in the future, well after I’m out of the picture, Congress will have to address the reallocation of this storage between power and drinking water. Since Beaver Lake currently is our only source of water, the district’s biggest challenge will be preserving the lake’s water quality as the area continues to grow.

You also are a director of the American Water Works Association. What are the biggest challenges facing Arkansas in terms of water supply? The nation?

The biggest challenge in Arkansas relates to quality. That is true especially in our area of the state. The compliance with and proper enforcement of the current regulations are critical if we wish to control the economic and environmental aspects of our water resources. We are involved with the Arkansas Natural Resource Conservation Commission as it develops the State Water Plan, which looks at all the uses, demands and availability of the state’s water resources. Water issues vary greatly across the nation too. For many areas of the U.S., the availability of water requires extensive conservation and reuse programs. Unfortunately, enormous populations have developed in historically water-poor areas, necessitating the transfer of water from great distances. But a common issue facing most U.S. utilities is financial, as most are facing the huge costs for the replacement of aging infrastructure — i.e., pipelines, treatment plants and equipment.