By JOE MOSBY
SPECIAL TO THE LOG CABIN
A major study of Lake Conway and its watershed has been launched by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Several partners are involved.
One of them, Southwestern Energy, has already found some interesting aspects during its bathymetric survey. Bathymetric? That’s a scientific term for the measurement of water in a lake or other body of water.
Southwestern Energy, a major figure in the Fayetteville Shale natural gas work in north-central Arkansas, is contributing its $60,000 study of Lake Conway’s bottom to the watershed study.
The 59-year-old lake has assorted troubles, one of them being the filling in with silt from incoming runoff water. Siltation has made some shallow areas inaccessible by boats, and AGFC fisheries biologists have estimated that the lake’s capacity may be 20 to 25 percent less today than when it was completed in 1951.
Holly Harvey is a Geographic Information System (GIS) field technician with Southwestern Energy. She said, “Our preliminary work with an aerial survey shows Lake Conway may be smaller than it once was. We have nine people in our GIS crew, but not all of them are working every day on the Lake Conway project. We have two john boats and a smaller Scamp boat that we are using in this work.”
The smaller boat, she said, can get into areas where the john boats can’t. Lake Conway has numerous pockets and coves clogged with fallen logs and brush and with vegetation. There is also a remote-control boat for even more difficult places to reach.
Using Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment, the Southwestern Energy project will produce a topographical map of Lake Conway’s bottom.
The bottom appears to have changed considerably since the lake was built in a swamp called the Palarm Creek Bottoms. Then it was filled with cypress trees and other native growth with numerous meandering channels of several creeks.
The lake is the largest every built by a state agency, and it remains a highly productive fishery, although some anglers lament the catches don’t match those of the legendary early days of the lake.
Harvey and Brad Hartwick, who is working with her, said their survey crews have found what fishermen on the lake experience: It’s hard to get around. The cypress stumps are numerous and often just under the water’s surface and out of sight until a boat bumps into them.
Hartwick said, “There is a lot of silt, and the lake is more shallow than it used to be. But if you tried to step into a shallow place, you’d sink way down in all that silt.”
As the lake has aged, many of those cypress trees have died and fallen into the water, leaving stumps and also leaving logs. The extensive “log jams” around the edges in some places are both beneficial and headaches to fishermen. They know that crappie, bream and bass hang out in the log jams, but the logs also make it difficult to reach the fish and to bring them out if hooked.
Hartwick said many of the logs have sunk to the lake’s bottom.
Mark Oliver, chief of fisheries for AGFC, said, “The filling-in of the lake has led to reduced boater and angler access, water quality problems and increased nuisance aquatic vegetation. Sediments are continuing to enter the lake.”
The watershed study is aimed at finding causes of these sediments and possible means of counteracting it.
Carl Perrin, now retired as an AGFC fisheries biologist, worked on Lake Conway more than 30 years. He said a few years ago, “The grass and trees when Lake Conway was built have been replaced by concrete and asphalt.”
The watershed study’s cost is estimated by AGFC at $200,000. Federal aid from Sportfish Restoration funds will be augmented by money from the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, from Faulkner County and from the Southwestern Energy bathymetrics project.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.