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City of Hughes, Arkansas, Sewage Lagoon - Emergency Watershed Protection Program

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City of Hughes sewage treatment facility lagoon pond breach, May 4, 2011. City of Hughes sewage treatment facility lagoon pond repair, May 6, 2011.
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A contractor places rock on the levee at the City of Hughes sewage treatment facility lagoon, June 3, 2011. Brian Gawf (right), NRCS construction inspector, looks at a trench created to hold rocks on the levee, June 3, 2011.


This spring, when water from excessive rains damaged the Hughes, Arkansas sewage treatment facility and the lagoon ponds began to breach, Mayor Larry Owens contacted the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for a solution to the tiny delta town’s problem. Charlie Williams, an Arkansas USDA Strike Force Leader and NRCS employee, encouraged the mayor to use the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program to prevent total failure of the embankment.

NRCS field engineers identified it as an EWP situation requiring immediate action on May 4. 

“Raw sewage was flowing into a creek,” says Walt Delp, NRCS state engineer. “Without quick action, the contamination would have spread downstream, impacting the entire community. We mobilized a contractor, who arrived on site on May 5 and began work immediately.”

Sewage waste and wastewater contamination of groundwater resources could have caused serious health threats to the community as well as caused environmental problems to the lakes and streams due to the level of phosphate and other nutrients present.

The contractor stopped the sewage leak on May 5 and stabilized the site on May 7. Permanent repair work of the embankment began on May 16 and was completed on June 10 with a federal cost share of $134,710 for both projects.

The city of Hughes is located in St. Francis County. It has a population of 1,450 and is a high poverty area, which qualifies it for EWP assistance under the USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative.

Arkansas is one of three pilot states participating in the USDA StrikeForce Initiative. The initiative is designed to help relieve persistent poverty in high poverty counties by accelerating USDA assistance while working closely with Community Based Organizations.

“Once it was determined the site met EWP guidelines, we established that the community qualified for 90 percent federal and 10 percent local cost share because it was located in a StrikeForce county,” Williams says.

Mayor Owens says that he and Hughes as a community appreciate the StrikeForce Initiative immensely.

“Their speedy reaction led to successfully averting what could have been a huge problem for our community,” he says.

“It’s good to have programs like this to help take care of us in these types of emergency situations,” Mayor Owens says.

Updated: 06-16-2011