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Beaver Lake Assessing Capacity, One of Many Studies to Improve Watershed

Beaver Lake Dam
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Crews at Arkansas’ Beaver Lake are conducting a capacity study to determine its maximum population to avoid issues such as deterioration.

Contractors hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are taking boat counts at launch ramps, campgrounds, marinas, and resorts. Checks are being made from the ground, on the water and from the air by helicopter.

“The lake is split up into five different zones,” said Dana Coburn, the Corps’ project manager. “We’re trying to find out what is happening in each of those zones, where the high-use areas are and what kind of recreation is taking place in those areas.”

The capacity study, which started July 4 and continues until Labor Day, comes as revisions are in the works to the Beaver Lake Master Plan (MP) and Shoreline Management Plan (SMP).

Last updated in 1976, the master plan’s original estimates of future population and land use do not align with current demographics. The revision will reclassify the government lands around the lake based on environmental and socioeconomic considerations, public input, and an evaluation of past, present, and forecasted trends.

“Northwest Arkansas has seen a tremendous amount of growth and a lot of things have changed in that area,” Coburn said. “You know, it has been 30-plus years, almost working on 40, it is time for us to update these documents.”

The MP serves as the guiding document government land management around Beaver Lake. The vision of the plan affects future management of natural resources and recreational opportunities to ensure lake sustainability.

In March 2015, the Corps held scoping workshops for the public to suggest changes to the MP. The results indicated the potential for significant revisions to the MP as well as the SMP, which manages the impact of human activities on the shoreline.

Initially, the Corps proposed to update the plans separately. But the relationship between the two plans and comments from the workshops indicated better results would come from a joint revision.

Before direct changes are made to the MP, the Corps wanted to fully discuss the options with the public, lake stakeholders and those impacted by the SMP. If the two plans were left separate, changes to the MP could limit SMP alternatives.

The SMP, last publicly reviewed and revised in 1998, regulates dock construction, access paths to the docks and vegetation management on government lands and waters.

This March, the Corps held three public scoping workshops that sought changes to both the MP and SMP. There, the public was able to ask questions and suggest proposals.

Information from the scoping workshops will be available in the carrying capacity study. According to Coburn, the results should be released by November.