Category Archives: Rainfall

Why does that water look so dirty?

War Eagle

War Eagle Mill sits in the middle of War Eagle Creek in Northwest Arkansas, December, 2015. Photos: Stuart Covey. Photo obtained from Garrett Lewis on Facebook

Just a few weeks ago Northwest Arkansas became flooded after 10 inches of rain fell across the area.  People flocked up to Beaver Dam for the rare sight of water spilling through the gates while others took the opportunity to capture breathtaking photos such as the one above. One unifying theme in all of the flood waters was mud!

These water bodies, War Eagle, West Fork, the White River, and others, don’t usually appear this muddy to us.  Perhaps since this was an extremely high flood event, we don’t think about mud in water being a problem.  But the mud, or sediment, in water is a problem.  In fact, sediment is considered the number 1 water pollutant in water!

What’s the problem?  It’s just mud!

Sediment knocks two punches into lowering water quality because it is a pollutant and it is also a carrier of pollutants.  Sediment as a pollutant can cause harm to aquatic life including fish and macroinvertebrates.  It can get caught in the gills of these animals, smother their habitat and breeding areas, and reduce the availability of food.  Water bodies with high levels of sediment may have higher temperatures due to increased absorption of sunlight.  It also costs more to take sediment out of surface water that is treated for drinking water.  For example, on Monday, December 28, 2015, near the peak of the flood, the Beaver Water District extracted 136 tons of mud or sediment from the water it treated. That’s about six times more than the usual 22 tons!

As a pollutant carrier, sediment can deliver increased nutrients, bacteria, and chemicals to waterways.  Those pollutants can adsorb or attach to sediment particles.  Once those sediment particles are detached from the surface of the earth, anything attached to them goes along for the ride, often ending up in the nearest waterway.  For example nutrients found in fertilizers, wastes and manures, and some cleaners, will get into the water after being attached to a soil particle!

While natural erosion produces nearly 30 percent of the total sediment load in the United States, accelerated erosion from human use of land accounts for the remaining 70 percent of sediment that goes to our surface waters!  Sediment pollution causes up to $16 billion in environmental damage annually.

Our friends at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service provided this short video to demonstrate some ways that sediment and anything attached to sediment can get into our surface waters.




Photo Credit: University of Arizona

Turbidity is a measure of the amount of suspended sediment and visible particles in a sample of water, or essentially, turbidity measures the cloudiness of the water. So clear water has low turbidity (beaker on the left) and water with high turbidity is more opaque (beaker on the right).  We want our waters to stay clear in order to keep ourselves healthy, our aquatic life healthy, and our water healthy!


What can you do to keep our waters clear and mud free?


Build a Buffer – Avoid mowing within 10 to 25 feet from the edge of a stream or creek. This will create a safe buffer zone that will help minimize erosion and naturally filter stormwater runoff that may contain sediment.



Sweep, Don’t Spray!  Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them off. Washing these areas results in sediment and other pollutants running off into streams, rivers and lakes.

Use Best Management Practices:  The most concentrated sediment releases come from construction activities, including relatively minor home-building projects such as room additions and swimming pools.  If you are engaged in a construction project, be sure to identify and implement appropriate best management practices to reduce runoff and increase water infiltration.  The Arkansas Forestry Commission has some great recommendations for BMPs to use when doing even small construction projects on your own property at

No dirt in water or the streets!  Notify local officials when you see sediment entering streets or streams near a commercial construction site.  Sediment should never be flowing off of a construction site, nor should it be tracked into the street.

Cover up the bare spots!  Bare soil is endangered soil!  Protect your soil and property by covering up bare spots.  Use weed-free mulch when reseeding bare spots on your lawn, and use a straw erosion control blanket if restarting or tilling a lawn  In gardens, put compost or weed-free mulch on your garden to help keep soil from washing away.

Wash the car on the grass!  Wash your car at a commercial car wash or on a surface that absorbs water, such as grass or gravel.  Washing the car on a hard surface sends dirt, chemicals, and cleaners straight to the nearest waterway!



You can help keep our waters clear and healthy!


Stormwater Runoff – What does that look like?

By: Angela Danovi, Beaver LakeSmart Coordinator

Have you ever taken the time to step outside during a rain event and see where the stormwater on your property flows?  It’s a good exercise to do because you learn about the direction water flows, where water concentrates on your property, and where your water converges with your neighbors or enters a storm drain.  This information is helpful because if you want to implement Best Management Practices to protect water quality, you need to know where the water flows that you are dealing with and where you might get the best impact and water protection.

During the recent rain event as Tropical Depression Bill came over Northwest Arkansas, I took the opportunity to follow the flow of water at my apartment complex and record what was happening.  The purpose was to see how the water was flowing and document it to share as an example for property owners.  There was nothing legally improper at my apartment complex, but there are certainly opportunities to decrease runoff, improve infiltration, and have an overall improvement on water quality.   I hope this blog will show you some things to look for when you walk around your property and evaluate it for possibilities to implement best management practices.

Photo 1: A rainwater downspout from a house

This is a typical setup of a downspout.  Water from the roof is sent on a downspout and out onto the ground.  The force of the water had pushed the black piping at the bottom off of the end of the downspout and the gravel has started washing away with the water.  The water coming off the roof here, goes into the gravel and quickly onto an impervious side walk where it quickly picks up speed and converges with other water water already flowing across the impervious walkway as it heads towards the curb and the nearest storm drain.

20150618_192647A water friendly alternative to downspouts releasing water onto gravel or impervious areas is a installing a rain barrel, installing rain gardens, or even directing the flow to a grassy area.


Photo 2: Rainwater flowing onto an impervious walkway:

Walkways are nice in our yards because they connect our driveways, parking areas, and other areas that we may readily access back to our homes.  However, impervious walkways serve as a conduit for quickly moving rainwater to the nearest creek or stream, bypassing infiltration that is critical for reducing flooding and improving water quality.

20150618_190953[1]A water friendly alternative to impervious walkways that connect to homes or driveways is to disconnect the impervious surfaces.  Can you install a stone walkway with gravel or grass in between the stones?  Can you install grass pavers?  Is there some place you might be able to disconnect your impervious walkway from the adjoining impervious surface?  There’s no right answer for everyone on this issue.  But learn about some permeable alternatives to a traditional concrete drive.  They can improve the aesthetics of the front of your home and will make you be a water smart homeowner!



Photos 3 & 4: Water flowing through backyards

This is the result of water flowing overland, concentrating, and heading to the nearest stream.  This water was flowing through backyards.  This situation occurs because water becomes concentrated and starts flowing overland quickly, rather than soaking in.  This picture is taken just before it drops underground and into a stream that was channelized and put under the parking lot.  The water collected from the parking flows into a storm drain at this location and all of the water flows underground in a channelized stream.



20150618_191429The situation occurs even in grassy areas because this water did not have an opportunity to infiltrate.  Downspouts, impervious surfaces, and poorly contoured yards concentrate water and cause it to flow off quickly.  If this water had the opportunity to infiltrate, you would not have this dramatic of a runoff situation.  If you have rills or small valleys on your property, you might choose to leave the grass higher in those areas.  That will increase infiltration and slow down runoff.


Photo 5: Water flowing into the Storm Drain

Water the flows into the storm drain comes from rain water that flowed overland and was directed to the stormdrain.  Curbs effectively channelize water, increasing its runoff.

20150618_191409A water smart alternative to curbs is to remove curbs.  Water will have a wider area to flow and will not become confined against the curb.  Also, you want to find ways to slow down and divert stormwater before it gets to the storm drain.  If you have a drain on your property, is there a place to install a raingarden before the water gets to the storm drain?


These are just a few photos to show you some of the things you are looking for when you evaluate your home for opportunities to reduce runoff and increase infiltration.  The next time you have a nice rain, go ahead and take a walk!  It’s fun and you can learn more about how water is acting and flowing on your property.  I suggest taking photos so that you can remember what you saw and you can use them when planning any best management projects.  Protecting our water resources starts with you!  Together we can make a difference at protecting our water resources now and for the future.