When Conway Corp. announced its intention to defer all of Conway’s wastewater to the area near Tupelo Bayou, alligator gar experts responded with concern for the species’ welfare.

According to Mark Spitzer, University of Central Arkansas professor and gar authority, the area downstream from the Toad Suck Dam is the home to the largest alligator gar population in Arkansas.

"Pool 7" is said to be the home and spawning ground of 75 to 100 alligator gar, a species known to grow to 10 feet in length. 

"We’ve probably accounted for 200 fish in the state," Spitzer said. "But it’s doubtful that we have more than 400 or 500 in the state."

Spitzer said UCA’s biology department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have used this site as a means to study the 300 million-year-old species’ rapid decline in numbers.

"We used to have a tourism industry in Arkansas in the '50s where people from all over the world came to fish these creatures," Spitzer said. "It led to the killing off of most of them."

Spitzer said he worries that the millions of gallons of water to be discharged near the fish may cause a change in floodplain depth, a particular degree for the successful spawning of an alligator gar.

Spitzer said if the company bypasses the bayou, another concern is the use of estrogen in purifying wastewater.

Conway Corp. CEO Richie Arnold said he is unfamiliar with that technology, and the Tupelo Bayou Wastewater Treatment Plant will not employ estrogen as a means to purify water.

Arnold said the effluent quality of water discharged from the new plant will be much better than that of the Tucker Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which has a discharge point not far from the proposed site named Tupelo Bayou.

Spitzer said there is need for an environmental impact study to ensure the proximity of the treated sewage water is not detrimental to what could be a population essential to the continuance of the "vulnerable and substantially declining" species.

Lindsey Lewis, fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that though the alligator gar is not federally listed as an endangered species, it’s one that "we’re watching closely."

"There are concerns about their numbers," Lewis said. 

The federal agency has been working with UCA to study the area’s gar for about four years, supplying technology and funding.

Arnold said the discharge point is not into the actual bayou, but into the Arkansas River.

"Our plan is to take the Stone Dam Plant, flowing into Lake Conway, and move its capacity to the river," Arnold said.

Arnold said if proximity causes concerns with the appropriate agencies, Conway Corp. will be in full support of an impact study.

Conway Corp. will be receiving public input on the Tupelo Bayou Wastewater Treatment Plant project until Monday.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)