Aquifer Information


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  • Summary and Louisiana Population Who Use the Sparta Aquifer

    The Sparta Aquifer is the major source of groundwater for all or part of sixteen parishes in North-Central Louisiana. Almost a quarter million people rely on the Sparta's excellent quality water for their drinking water. In 2000, public supply replaced industry as the largest user of the Sparta.

    The Sparta is recharged primarily from rainfall on exposed (outcrop) areas in Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Bienville, Jackson and Winn Parishes. The approximate limit of freshwater extends from Morehouse Parish south to Caldwell Parish and then southwest to Sabine Parish. The Sparta becomes confined between clay layers as it flows downward toward the east. In confined aquifers, heavy pumping and substantial pumping reduction have widespread effects. In areas of heavy pumping, the usual east-to-west water flow in the Sparta is altered, and water flows instead toward cones of depression that have formed beneath the pumping centers.

    The Sparta has been heavily pumped for more than eighty years. In the past thirty years, well water levels have declined at average rates of one to three feet per year and have dropped below the top of the aquifer in many areas. Water users and managers have become concerned about potential consequences if the trend continues. Consequences may include, depending upon location, expansion of cones of depression, increased cost of drilling and pumping, decreased aquifer yield, deterioration of water quality, intrusion of salt water into the aquifer's freshwater, and compaction of sands that can permanently reduce the aquifer's capacity for storing water.

    In response to concerns, in 1999 the Louisiana legislature established the Sparta Commission to study the aquifer and how best to manage it. The Commission contracted the Sparta Groundwater Study (2002). The authors re- commended, based upon information at the time, to limit Sparta withdrawals to 52 million gallons per day (mgd) [reducing withdrawals by 18 mgd from the rate since 2000 of about 70 mgd] and to consider developing other potable water sources for another 12 million gallons per day to provide for population and industrial growth.

    Several important conservation measures have been completed or are underway. The Union County, Arkansas Ouachita River Alternative Supply Project is an example of the widespread effects of reducing withdrawals. Three El Dorado industries ceased Sparta use in 2003 and2004, resulting in a substantial recovery in El Dorado, Arkansas wells and some recovery in wells in several Louisiana parishes, a recovery that increases with time and diminishes with distance from El Dorado. A City of West Monroe wastewater recycling project promises similar returns.

    Because the Sparta aquifer is a limited source of accessible and relatively inexpensive potable water, there will always be a need to protect and conserve the aquifer. Conservation requires cooperation of the public, industries, lawmakers, and government officials. Conservation education is underway to encourage a culture of care for the Sparta. This report closes with a look to the future.

    Louisiana Population Who Use the Sparta Aquifer

    Approximately 238,000 people depended upon the Sparta aquifer for their drinking water in 2004. The Sparta is the primary source of drinking water in Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson, Lincoln, Union, Webster, and Winn Parishes. The aquifer is an important source of drinking water in Ouachita and Morehouse Parishes. Some residents of Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Richland, and Sabine Parishes also rely on Sparta water.

About the Sparta Aquifer

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  • Hydrogeology of the Sparta Aquifer

    Origin and Location of the Sparta Sand

    The Sparta Sand Formation makes up most of the Middle Claiborne Group, a hydrogeologic unit of the Mississippi Embayment. The sands were laid down as part of the ancient Gulf of Mexico beach system when the Earth was much warmer than it is today, the world ocean was much larger, and the mouth of the ancient Mississippi River was at Cairo, Illinois. The formation extends from southeast Texas, north into Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, and eastward into Mississippi and Alabama. An endnote tells more about the Mississippi Embayment. The Middle Claiborne group dates to the Eocene age, which spanned the time period of 55 to 34 million years ago.

    Description of the Sparta Sand

    'The Sparta Sand consists of fine to medium sand interbedded with coarse sand, silty clay and lignite. The sands become (thicker) with depth of the aquifer. Laterally, they are discontinuous. The percentage of sand... (depending upon the location within the aquifer) varies from almost completely sand, generally at the base, to fifty percent sand, for example, in an area of Ouachita Parish, where sands are broken with many small clays (layers of clay).' In north Louisiana and south Arkansas, the Cane River Formation, predominantly marine clay, underlies the aquifer, and the Cook Mountain Formation overlies it. These confining units, of clay, mud, marl, and shale, were depositions of rising seas interrupted by sedimentary rock deposited by streams that emptied into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Description of the Sparta Aquifer in Louisiana

    The Sparta aquifer in Louisiana downdips (inclines at an angle downward) from the outcrop area in parts of Bossier, Webster, Claiborne, Bienville, Jackson, and Winn Parishes to the approximate limit of freshwater, which extends from Morehouse south to Caldwell Parish and then southeast to Sabine Parish.

    For most of the Sparta aquifer in Louisiana, the altitude of the top ranges from 200 feet above sea level (recharge area) to 300 feet below sea level (freshwater/saltwater interface).... The altitude of the base ranges from 150 feet above sea level (recharge area) to 1000 feet below sea level (freshwater/saltwater interface)... The otherwise relatively smooth base is interrupted in places by domes created by intrusion of buried salt formations pushing overlying geological units upward. The thickness of the aquifer ranges from 50 feet (recharge area) to 500 feet (adjacent to recharge area), increasing to 700 feet (freshwater/saltwater interface).'

    Average Annual Rainfall and Sparta Recharge

    Rainfall arrives in the Sparta aquifer directly in outcrop areas, and by water flowing in overlying terrace and alluvial deposits, and by leakage from the Cockfield and Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers. In north Louisiana, average rainfall is 56.19 inches per year (range 40 to 80 inches per year), as derived from 1971-2000 data. Most rainfall runs off to streams and rivers, or is returned to the atmosphere from plants and soil by processes of evapotranspiration, or discharges as baseflow to streams. (F)ew, if any, studies have been conducted in the (Mississippi) embayment to determine actual recharge rates.' In their optimization model, McKee, Clark, and Czarnecki fixed a recharge range from 0.39 to 0.77 inches per year for the Sparta region in the outcrop and suboutcrop area of southern Arkansas and north-central Louisiana.

  • Water Movement Through the Sparta Aquifer

    Potentiometric Surface

    Potentiometric surface is the level to which water in a tightly encased well will rise by hydrostatic pressure or 'head'. 'Potentiometric surface', 'water level altitude', and 'hydraulic head' are often used interchangeably as different expressions of hydrostatic pressure.

    Direction of Groundwater Movement Through the Sparta Aquifer

    The Sparta is exposed at the surface (outcrop area). It becomes confined as it dips toward the east. In a confined aquifer, water flows downgradient from potentiometric high areas to potentiometric lows. Heavy pumping causes cones of depression in the potentiometric surface and alters the direction of ground-water flow. In 1900 (before widespread pumping, sometimes referred to as 'pre-development times'), groundwater flow was eastward, indicated by Sparta water level elevations that decreased from 300 feet above mean sea level in Claiborne Parish to 100 feet above mean sea level in Ouachita and Morehouse Parishes. Since development, pumping has induced cones of depression, reversing the flow in Ouachita and Morehouse Parishes westward.

    Speed of Groundwater Movement Through the Sparta Aquifer

    Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality researchers estimated 53.2 years as the typical time of travel for one mile in the Sparta, that is, 99.3 feet per year. In calculating typical velocity, they used average values for hydraulic conductivity (the ease with which water flows through the aquifer), hydraulic gradient (head loss per distance of flow), and porosity (percentage of volume through which water can move).

    The values are averages and do not take into account the facts that discontinuous units differ in flow rates and direction; or that localized areas differ in hydraulic conductivity, hydraulic gradient, and porosity; or that pumping results in increased ground water velocity in areas where (and to the extent that) the hydraulic gradient has been increased by that pumping.

  • Storage & Release Properties of the Sparta Aquifer & Well Yield

    Specific storage, storativity, specific capacity, and specific yield are storage properties of an aquifer, referring to the quantity of water that can be released. Storage definitions and some values for the Sparta aquifer in Louisiana are presented in Endnote 4. 'Storativity' is the subject of sections that follow in this paper.

    Release of Water from a Confined Aquifer, like the Sparta, as opposed to an Unconfined Aquifer

    An aquifer's pores make up the space between the aquifer's sand. In an unconfined aquifer, withdrawing water results in a decline in water table; aquifer pores are drained of water, leaving air to fill in. In a confined aquifer, where water is compressed, withdrawing water results in a pressure drop (decline in potentiometric surface), but aquifer pores remain filled with water. From equivalent unit areas with equivalent change in head, the volume of water released from a confined aquifer is much less than that released from an unconfined aquifer.

    From equivalent unit areas with equivalent change in head, the volume of water released from storage in the Sparta aquifer has been reported as generally about 1,000 times less than that released from the unconfined Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer. The alluvial aquifer has greater storativity, as well as greater porosity and hydraulic conductivity.

    Importance of the Sparta Aquifer's Small Storativity

    While the Sparta aquifer can produce high quality water, its relatively small storativity, as a confined aquifer, means that large water-level declines over extensive areas are required to achieve the water yields of an unconfined aquifer over a much smaller area. This means that:
    • Pumping in one location will affect a relatively large area of the aquifer
    • In the absence of recharge equal to withdrawal, there will be deepening and expansion of the area of drawdown of the potentiometric surface;
    Decreased pumping in one location will result in water level rises that become relatively widespread over time.


    Yield is a measure of the pumping rate as gallons per minute of a specific well. It is influenced by aquifer characteristics, pumping time, and well construction. Individual wells in the Sparta (excluding those wells located within areas of large drawdowns) generally yield 100 to 500 gallons per minute, with less common rates up to 1,200 gallons per minute.

    Specific Capacity

    Specific Capacity is the pumping rate per unit foot of drawdown, tracked over time. The measure is used to identify well and aquifer performance problems. For Sparta wells, the value has been estimated as five to ten gallons per minute per foot of drawdown.

  • Sparta Water Quality

    Water Quality Changes with Distance from Outcrop Area and with Depth

    In Mississippi Embayment aquifer water, the dominant minerals are calcium bicarbonate and sodium bicarbonate in shallower parts, sodium bicarbonate in mid-dip, and sodium chloride, especially in deeper parts. (4a)

    'The quality of groundwater in Louisiana is generally suitable for public supply, except where dissolved-solids concentrations (TDS) are larger than 1000 mg/L.' (11a) In the Sparta, the TDS concentration increases from the outcrop area in the west until it reaches approximately 1000 mg/L along the line typically displayed on maps as 'the approximate eastern border of the freshwater Sparta', also referred to as 'the freshwater/salt water interface' or 'the downdip limit of freshwater'. (Ref. 2, p. 7-2, Ref. 6)

    Suitability for Use

    A United States Geological Survey (USGS) report describes Sparta freshwater as suitable for use without treatment except in some areas where treatment to remove iron may be needed.(3) The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality describes water from their Sparta monitoring wells as soft.(5) Soft water has less tendency than hard water to cause 'limescale', which clogs pipes and decreases the life of water-using equipment.

    Monitoring Sparta Water Quality

    Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) samples water from selected wells in each of the state's aquifers at three year intervals. In aquifer summaries, LDEQ reports water contaminants in terms of EPA-designated Primary Maximum Contaminant Level (PMCL; mandatory, health-related) and Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (SMCL; unenforceable, generally aesthetic). LDEQ also reports trends.(5) USGS publishes Water Quality Samples for Louisiana.

    Results of LDEQ Monitoring of Sparta Water Quality

    Results of 14 LDEQ Sparta monitoring wells sampled in 2003 and 2006 were published in the 'Sparta Aquifer Summary', 2004 and 2007.(5) Among results were the following:
    • Water Quality in Excess of Primary Standards in Specific Wells: No primary drinking water standards (PMCL) were exceeded.
    • Water Quality in Excess of Secondary Standards in Specific Wells: One or more secondary standards (SMCL) were exceeded in some monitoring well:
      • Chloride concentrations in excess of SMCL= 250 mg/L were reported in four wells in 2004 and 2007 respectively: in Morehouse Parish (MO-253) 387 mg/L and 373 mg/L; in Union Parish (UN-205) 315 mg/L and 351 mg/L; and in Ouachita Parish (OU-464: 360 mg/L and OU-597: 419 mg/L).
      • Iron concentrations in excess of SMCL= 0.3 mg/L (and in excess of 1 mg/L, a standard used in some localities) were reported, in 2007, in a Bienville Parish well (BI-212: 2.17 mg/L) and a Claiborne Parish well (CL-203: 1.380 mg/L).
      • The pH of water in the Claiborne Parish well (CL-203) was reported, in 2007, as 6.48 SU, which is slightly acidic, just below the SMCL lower limit for pH = 6.5 SU.
    • Trends in Sparta Water Quality:
      • There was a general increase in specific conductance (related to salinity), salinity, chlorides, total dissolved solids (TDS), iron, and barium.
      • There was a general decrease in color and hardness.
      • The average TDS concentration increased from 356.5 to 461 mg/L.
      • The average chloride concentration increased from 85.8 mg/L to 126.5 mg/L

    Increasing Chloride Concentration in Sparta Water is Along the Freshwater/Saltwater Interface

    Increasing concentration of chloride in Sparta water is occurring mostly in wells along the freshwater/saltwater interface.(12) Chloride levels are generally stable elsewhere in the Sparta region.(12) A 2008 PowerPoint presentation, 'Water Quality in the Sparta Aquifer', by USGS supervisory hydrologist Ben McGee included graphs that demonstrate the same pattern.(13a)

    Water Quality Protection

    One of the three Sparta aquifer management issues listed by Fenstermaker et al (Section 5a. of this paper) is 'the management of impervious cover, development, and pumpage in the primary recharge areas, recognizing the need to limit the amount of impervious cover and regulate development of hazardous waste in areas where an aquifer is recharged by direct infiltration of precipitation and runoff.'(6)

    Groundwater Contamination

    A USGS circular describes groundwater vulnerability to contamination as 'a function not only of the properties of the ground-water-flow system (intrinsic susceptibility) but also of the proximity of contaminant sources, characteristics of the contaminant, and other factors that could potentially increase loads of specified contaminants to the aquifer and(or) their eventual delivery to a ground-water resource.' The complexities of the behavior of different contaminants in an aquifer system are beyond the scope of this paper, but are discussed in the circular and in an LDEQ paper.(10) Recharge area protection is especially important because, whereas 'deeper and older ground water tends to be in contact with naturally occurring contamination for long periods of time, shallower and younger ground water tends to be more susceptible to current sources of contamination from land surface.'

    Louisiana's Drinking Water Source Protection Programs

    As of this report (March, 2010), the state of Louisiana has no regulations specific to aquifer recharge area protection, but Louisiana DEQ's Drinking Water Source Programs are designed to protect drinking water supplies. The Wellhead Protection Program originates from the U.S. Congress Safe Drinking Water Act Amendment of 1986. Most of its elements were incorporated into the EPA Source Water Assessment Program (SWAP) of 1996 and Louisiana's Drinking Water Protection Program. The SWAP program required all states to: (1) delineate a protection area around all public water supply wells and intakes, (2) locate by GPS all wells and intakes in the state and significant potential sources of contamination within the protection areas, and (3) determine the susceptibility of each public water supply to contamination.

    The SWAP assessments, completed in 2003, guide LDEQ Source Water Protection Program agents, who work with local citizens on a parish-wide basis to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) in wellhead protection areas. (13b) The BMPs consist primarily of local people conducting public education programs using SWAP information under the guidance of LDEQ.

    Other drinking water supply protection programs are listed in Endnote 6 by agency: LDEQ (programs in addition to SWAP and DWPP), Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, EPA and Louisiana Rural Water Association

  • Sparta Aquifer Pumping

    Pumping History

    Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality researchers estimated 53.2 years as the typical time of travel for one mile in the Sparta, that is, 99.3 feet per year.(10) In calculating typical velocity, they used average values for hydraulic conductivity (the ease with which water flows through the aquifer), hydraulic gradient (head loss per distance of flow) and porosity (percentage of volume through which water can move). The values are averages and do not take into account the facts that discontinuous units differ in flow rates and direction; or that localized areas differ in hydraulic conductivity, hydraulic gradient, and porosity; or that pumping results in increased ground water velocity in areas where (and to the extent that) the hydraulic gradient has been increased by that pumping.

Sparta Pumping & The Effects

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  • Sparta Aquifer Pumping

    Pumping History

    The Sparta aquifer is pumped in a large area of north central Louisiana and a narrow band through Natchitoches and Sabine parishes.(2) 'Currently (2004), more than 1760 wells are screened in the Sparta aquifer in Louisiana and Arkansas.'(8)

    'The earliest known withdrawals from the Sparta (in southern Arkansas and Louisiana) began in 1898 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.'(8) In 1906, as many as six municipalities in south Arkansas and north Louisiana were pumping from the Sparta.(2)

    Heavy industrial pumping began in the 1920's, with pulp and paper mills in Bastrop (1921), West Monroe (1930), Hodge (1931), and Springhill (1938).(2) By 1940, total pumpage exceeded 69.6 million gallons per day (mgd), which was considered more than the Sparta aquifer could recharge. (2-authors refer to McWreath et al-Ref. 27b)

    In 1980, total Sparta pumpage was about 64.98 mgd. The next year, an International Paper mill in Morehouse Parish ceased pumping the Sparta (this paper, sec. 6.b.2.), but Sparta pumping elsewhere continued to increase. In 1994, total Sparta pumping reached a peak of about 72.73 mgd.(2) From 1994 to 1999, the Smurfit-Stone Container plant in Jonesboro-Hodge developed a Sparta recycling project (this paper, sec. 6.b.3.), which led to the saving of a significant amount of Sparta water. But, once again, some savings were lost to continuing increase of pumping elsewhere in the Sparta. In 2000, total Sparta pumpage was about 69.84 mgd.(2) Pumpage has remained relatively stable since then (2000 through 2009). After 1990, public supply withdrawals began to increase relative to withdrawals by industry.(6) By 2000, public supply use had exceeded industrial usage.(15)

    New Demand for Water in Northern Louisiana

    In 2002, Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, Hixson, in their Sparta Groundwater Study, predicted an increasing water demand in the Sparta region because of projected growth in population and industry.(2)

    Recently, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Office of Conservation (DNR) has permitted Sparta water use in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing ('frac well') operations and two million gallons per day for a period of four or more years to leach a salt dome for storage of natural gas.(17) This action is part of expanding natural gas production in northwest Louisiana, which has come about because of advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, processes that are used in most natural gas wells in the United States today(16a).

    Much of the Sparta region lies within the oil and gas producing North Louisiana Salt Basin. Figure 14 In 2006 and 2008 respectively, 444 and 511 oil and gas wells were permitted by DNR in the nine major Sparta using parishes.(17) Approximately two-thirds of the permitted wells were active and producing during those years.(17) Vertical drilling of a new well may require as much as one million gallons of water.(16b)

    The multi-stage hydraulic fracture operations used in 'frac wells' may require 2 to 4 million gallons of water per well.(16b) One author provides perspective: this water use is less than that for coal, oil, and ethanol production; a golf course consumes about five million gallons of water per twenty-five days.(16c)

    At the time of this writing, most 'frac wells' in North Louisiana are being drilled in the natural gas-rich Haynesville/Bossier Shale. This play lies within the Sabine Uplift, most of which is located just west of the Sparta region.(16d)

    While Sparta water use for natural gas production is projected to be small relative to surface water and Wilcox aquifer use for most Haynesville/Bossier Shale operations, it is recognized that 'because the development of shale gas is new in some areas, these water needs may challenge supplies and infra-structure'.(16b) Any new Sparta water demand emphasizes the need to prepare for the region's future water requirements.

    Department of Energy-funded 'Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer' (16b) and 'EPA Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing' (16e) summarize federal, state, and local regulations of the natural gas production industry, environmental considerations, and water supply and management issues. 'Natural Gas Drilling: Facts and Issues', a League of Women Voters of Texas study funded by Lockheed Martin Corporation, discusses these issues related to development of the Barnett Shale in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.(16f)

  • Response of the Sparta Aquifer to Heavy Pumping

    Because the Sparta, as a confined aquifer, has relatively small storativity, the response of water levels to heavy pumping stress is substantial and occurs over a large area. Long-term pumping has resulted in regionally extensive water-level declines and change in location of potentiometric lows from natural groundwater discharge areas in pre-development years to pumping centers in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas.(8)

    Groundwater flow, potentiometric surface, and water level declines

    In predevelopment times (around 1900) well water levels were well above the top of the Sparta Sand.(15) As early as the 1940's, substantial declines in water levels were documented in Union and Jefferson Counties in Arkansas.(1) Figure 16 shows simulated declines of greater than 260 foot over a century at the location of two Sparta wells in Louisiana.

    In 1960, USGS, in cooperation with Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, began reporting water withdrawals and usage data every five years (14), allowing analysis of trends. Declining potentiometric levels within the Sparta due to pumping have been plotted on maps for more than 35 years. (Ref. 12 and Sec. 7.a.1. of this paper) By 1965, withdrawals had formed cones of depression at Minden, Jonesboro-Hodge, Monroe, Bastrop, and Farmerville.(15) Since 1980, the deepening and expanding cones of depression in Monroe, Bastrop, and Farmerville have coalesced, forming a trough between El Dorado and Monroe regions.(6) Figure 17 shows average water level declines from one to four feet per year, increasing eastward.

    Between 1980 and 2001, well water level declines greater than 30 feet were recorded in Claiborne, Jackson, Lincoln, Ouachita, and Union Parishes, most prominently in heavy pumping areas around Ruston, Monroe-West Monroe, and Jonesboro-Hodge.(2) In Lincoln, Ouachita and Union Parishes, water levels declined 10 to 15 feet between 1980 and 1989 and 30 to 35 feet between 1989 and 2001; total decline was about 50 feet over 20 years.(2) Regionally, the range of Sparta well water level decline between 1990 and 2000 was 0.1 feet to 5.2 feet per year.(15)

    Over 42 years (October 1967 to October 2009), the water level in Lincoln Parish Sparta well L-26 declined 71 feet (an average of 1.7 feet per year). Water levels in two Ruston wells declined at a rate of 2.8 feet per year over 44 and 46 years; another declined 3.2 feet per year over 41 years. (2, p.26)

    'The effect of heavy pumping can be remarkable locally. An aquifer test near El Dorado resulted in an approximate 5.7 foot water level decline 2,400 feet from the pumping well after 3 days of pumping at a rate of about 460 gallons per minute.' (1)

    Dewatering and Potential Compaction of Sands

    By 1997, the potentiometric surface in the Sparta aquifer was below the top of the Sparta Sand in much of Webster, Claiborne, Lincoln, Bienville, and Jackson Parishes, and parts of Ouachita, Union, and Bossier Parishes.(9) Figures 19 and 20

    'Excessive dewatering of the Sparta aquifer and overlying confining units can lead to irreversible compaction (subsidence), reducing its ability to be recharged and its water-yielding capacity... (and) reducing the rate at which water can move through the aquifer.' (1)

    A USGS Fact Sheet, The Sparta Aquifer: A Sustainable Water Resource describes the process of compaction. '[The stress of rock and water mass acting downward] is borne by the granular skeleton of the aquifer matrix (effective stress) and the fluid pressure of water in the pore spaces. When the fluid pressure is reduced, the effective stress increases... If water level declines below the top of a confined aquifer, the aquifer becomes unconfined... at that location and the fig-21fluid pressure becomes zero transferring all the stress to the aquifer matrix. Aquifers and confining units containing significant amounts of fine-grained materials, as the Sparta aquifer does, are most susceptible to compaction.' (1)

    Notable subsidence had not been documented in the Sparta aquifer when the USGS Fact Sheet was published.(1) Interpretable data is required. Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, and Hixson in the Sparta Groundwater Study remarked, 'It is important for the long-term preservation of the aquifer to restore the water level to the top of the aquifer.' (2)

    Advance of the Freshwater/Saltwater Interface Westward and Upconing of Salt Water in the Sparta

    When large scale pumping of water out of the Sparta reduces the hydrostatic pressure, saltwater can fill in, either upconing locally or moving the salt water interface westward into the freshwater region. (2)

    The 'Water Quality' section of this paper (section 3.d.) describes increasing salt concentration in Sparta water. Briefly, over twelve years ending 2007, average chloride concentration rose from 85.8 mg/L to 126.5 mg/L in LDEQ monitored wells (5); in three of 14 wells, the chloride concentration exceeded the EPA secondary standard for drinking water (5); a 2009 study shows that chloride concentration of Sparta water along the freshwater/saltwater interface continues to increase (12).

    Upconing of brackish water because of extreme drawdowns has resulted in increased chloride concentrations in some Union County, Arkansas Sparta wells (1) and possibly a Union Parish well (OU-205) that had a chloride concentration of 351 ppm in 2006. (5)

  • Cost of Heavy Pumping from the Sparta Aquifer

    Summarizing results of their flow model of the Sparta aquifer in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana and simulated response to withdrawals, McKee, Clark, and Czarnecki wrote in 2003 and 2004 (immediately before three El Dorado industries converted to river water use): 'Historically, the Sparta aquifer has provided abundant water of good quality. In recent years, however, the demand for water in some areas has resulted in withdrawals from the Sparta aquifer that substantially exceed recharge to the aquifer.

    Considerable drawdown has occurred in the potentiometric surface, and water users and managers question the ability of the aquifer to supply water for the long term. Continued heavy withdrawals in the Sparta aquifer, where alternative water sources are not considered or available, will result in continued expansion of the cones of depression as well as increased drilling and pumping costs, decreased aquifer yield, and reduced water quality.' (Ref.9, p. 2) 'Continued pumping at withdrawal rates representative of 1990 - 1997 rates cannot be sustained indefinitely without causing hydraulic heads to drop substantially below the top of the Sparta Sand in southern Arkansas and north-central Louisiana.' (Ref. 8, p. 1) top Increased costs of heavy pumping, which can become prohibitive for public and industrial supply, may occur in a number of ways:
    • Wells must be deepened or replaced when the head falls below the screened (open) intervals of the well.
    • Well yields decrease because of reduced amounts of water in storage.
    • Pumping costs increase because of the increase in the vertical distance that groundwater must be lifted to the surface and because of reduced hydrostatic pressure.
    • Water treatment costs increase as poorer quality water is drawn from greater depths in the aquifer. If water becomes saltier, treatment (reverse osmosis or distillation) costs may be prohibitive.
    • Less Sparta water is available when sands become compacted; reduced aquifer capacity may be permanent.
    • Salt content of drinking water must be counted as salt intake, which may be especially important for individuals on a low salt diet.
    • The taste of water declines as poorer quality water is drawn from greater depths of the aquifer. If water becomes saltier, the saltiness may be appreciated at a concentration of chloride about 395 mg/L. (18)
    • Corrosion occurs more rapidly as water becomes saltier, necessitating early replacement of industrial equipment, public utilities equipment, and domestic plumbing fixtures and water-using appliances. (18)
      • In 1968, researchers, estimating costs of corrosion as water becomes saltier, found that using water with TDS concentration of 1750 mg/L compared with 250 mg/L decreased the service life by 70 percent of toilet flushing mechanisms and by 30 percent of washing equipment, adding 50 cents per 1000 gallons to the cost of water used.(18) LDEQ reported that, in 2007, the TDS concentration in water from five of six sampled wells in Morehouse, Ouachita, and Union Parishes exceeded 1000 mg/L.(5) There are anecdotal reports that in Union Parish near the Arkansas border, where the chloride concentration exceeded 350 mg/L in one well in 2006 (Un-205-Ref. 5), equipment warranties are not offered because of corrosion problems.
    • Water in streams and lakes may be reduced, particularly in and near an aquifer outcrop area.
      • Ground-water pumping can alter how water moves between an aquifer and river, stream, or wetland by intercepting groundwater flow that naturally discharges into the surface-water body or by increasing the rate of water movement from the surface-water body into an aquifer. (One consequence may be)... the lowering of water levels below the depth that streamside or wetland vegetation needs to survive. (19)

Sparta Commission's Work Within State Groundwater Law

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  • Sparta Aquifer Management Issues

    Fenstermaker et al published in 2002 a study for the state of Louisiana to assist with development of a statewide water management plan. The following are the major management issues the firm listed for the Sparta Aquifer:
    • The impact of pumpage on the ability of the aquifer to yield economic volumes of groundwater, in view of the concern that long-term decreases in the potentiometric surface of an aquifer may reduce the volume of available water, decrease the yield of wells, and increase lifting costs;
    • The potential for pumpage to induce the flow of saline water into freshwater sands west of the City of West Monroe (Ouachita Parish);
    • The management of impervious cover, development, and pumpage in the primary recharge areas, recognizing the need to limit the amount of impervious cover and regulate development of hazardous waste in areas where an aquifer is recharged by direct infiltration of precipitation and runoff.' (6)
  • Louisiana Groundwater Law & Regulation

    Louisiana Groundwater Law (Revised Statutes 38:3091.1-3098.7) and Article in Louisiana Law Review

    Prior to 2001, there was no statewide groundwater law, other than a 1972 law authorizing the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Dept. of Public Works to regulate (registration, reporting, well construction and sealing) wells drawing more than 50,000 gallons per day. [This DOTD authority was transferred to Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) in 2009]. A 1974 law created the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District and gave it permitting and funding authority within five parishes surrounding Baton Rouge.

    In 2001, Act 449 provided for a commission and a task force to develop comprehensive groundwater law. Act 449 also defined 'critical groundwater area' and provided for a process for designation of these areas.

    In 2003, Act 49 (Louisiana Revised Statutes 38:3097.1-3097.6) modified or eliminated provisions of earlier laws and became the basis for groundwater law in Louisiana. Act 225 of 2005 replaced Act 49's definition of 'critical groundwater area' with a new definition and created a new category, 'area of groundwater concern'.

    Some Provisions of Louisiana Groundwater Law (Revised Statutes 38:3091.1-3098.7)

    • LDNR Commissioner of Conservation is 'empowered and responsible for the administration of all matters related to the management of the state's groundwater resources'.
    • 'Sustainability' is defined as 'the development and use of ground water in a manner that can be maintained for the present and future time without causing unacceptable environmental, economic, social, or health consequences'.
    • An 'area of groundwater concern' is defined as an 'area in which, under current usage and normal environmental conditions, sustainability of an aquifer is not being maintained due to either movement of a salt water front, water level decline, or subsidence, resulting in unacceptable environmental, economic, social, or health impact, or causing serious adverse impact to an aquifer, considering the areal and temporal extent of all such impacts'. Well owner(s) may apply. After public hearings, the Commissioner may issue an order designating an area of concern, which must contain a plan for protection of the area.
    • A 'critical area of groundwater concern' is defined: 'An area of ground water concern, declared pursuant to R.S. 38:3097.6, shall be designated a critical area of ground water concern when the commissioner finds that sustainability cannot be maintained without withdrawal restrictions'.
    • First priority use is assigned to human consumption in 'critical areas of groundwater concern'.
    • Well owners, with some exceptions, must notify the Commissioner 60 days before drilling a new well.
      • Restrictions are placed on regulating groundwater withdrawal: for large volume wells (greater than 8" diameter exterior encasement) and wells in a 'critical groundwater area', the Commissioner may order allowable production, spacing, and metering, otherwise, the Commissioner may regulate spacing.

    Orders of the Commissioner of Conservation include the following:

    • designation of 'areas of groundwater concern' in Sparta pumping centers (AGC 1-05 of 2005);
    • required reporting of water source and volume used in hydraulic fracturing operations (2009);
    • establishment of uniform regulations for Haynesville Shale operations in urban areas (2009).

    Louisiana legislature Act 437 of 2009 transferred responsibility for water well registration, licensing, and regulation from DOTD to DNR, effective January 1, 2010. DNR Office of Conservation tracks the number and use of water wells in the state. []

    Statewide Comprehensive Groundwater Management Plan

    The Louisiana Groundwater Resources Commission, on which the Sparta Commission is represented, is preparing a statewide groundwater management plan, which is projected to be complete by the end of 2010.

  • Sparta Commission

    In 1999, the Louisiana legislature created the Sparta Groundwater Conservation District Commission (Sparta Commission) to study characteristics of the Sparta aquifer and how best to manage activities in the Sparta region that impact current and future Sparta use. The 19 member commission is composed of representatives of Sparta region parishes, municipalities, and industries, who help fund the work of the commission. The state helped pay for the Sparta Groundwater Study. Other funding is provided by private donations.

    Members of the Sparta Commission and the Union County (Arkansas) Water Conservation Board have shared information and mutual concerns in bi-state cooperation since a meeting in Ruston in 1997. Both boards work to fulfill their similar mission 'to conserve, protect, restore, and maintain the Sparta Formation Aquifer as a continuing source of high quality, potable water for current and future consumers by promoting conservation measures and the develop-ment of alternate sources of fresh water, pursuant to the authority and responsibility granted by the state.'

  • Application for "Critical Groundwater Area" Designation of Some Stressed Areas of the Sparta Aquifer

    Sparta Commission Application for Designation of Critical Groundwater Area

    In 2002, the Sparta Commission, following required procedures of the time, submitted to the state Groundwater Management Commission an application for designation of an area within the Sparta region a 'critical groundwater area'.(20) [Legislative Act 225 of 2005 renamed such areas 'areas of groundwater concern'.]

    State Requirements for Designation of a Critical Groundwater Area (later Area of Groundwater Concern)

    An applicant for a 'critical groundwater area' designation was required to state facts and supporting evidence substantiating that at least one of three criteria applied to the aquifer would, currently or in the immediate future, render the aquifer unsuitable for groundwater demands without some action taken. Criteria were: 1) water level declines, 2) salt water intrusion, 3) overall withdrawals that have exceeded the aquifer's recharge.

    The Sparta Commission contracted Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, and Hixson, Inc. to conduct the Sparta Groundwater Study to identify areas that met the specified conditions. The Sparta Commission specified three conditions that satisfied Louisiana's 'critical groundwater area' criteria of the time and, for the advantages of bi-state cooperation, also satisfied 'critical groundwater area' criteria established by Arkansas law, Endnote 7 namely:
    • areas where the drawdown exceeded one-foot per year over a study period (a recognition that continued present pumping and the possibility of new wells will continue to exacerbate the existing adverse situation areas);
    • areas where the water surface had dropped below the top of the Sparta aquifer (a recognition that to allow this to continue violates the long-range goal of saving and restoring the Sparta aquifer for long-term future use as a major water supply source),
    • possible areas where salt water intrusion is becoming a problem (a recognition that a moving salt water interface from East to West will materially affect water quality in the Sparta). (20)

    A Sparta Groundwater Study(2) map of 2001 shows the area where the drawdown had exceeded one-foot per year over 20 years, and, overlapping in places, the area where the water surface had dropped below the top of the Sparta aquifer. Authors noted that further study was required to better define salt water intrusion areas. (2)

  • State Response to the Application for "Critical Area" Designation

    The response to the Sparta Commission's request for 'critical groundwater area' designation for most of the Sparta region in Louisiana came in 2005 with Order No. AGC 1-05 of DNR Commissioner of Conservation. This order designated three 'areas of groundwater concern,' around major pumping centers in Monroe, Jonesboro-Hodge, and Ruston areas.(21) Non-domestic well owners in these areas must report monthly pumpage, purpose for use, and, if available, the static well water level. The order states, as remedies, water users 'shall vigorously seek alternate sources of potable water' and 'an aggressive water conservation education program should begin as soon as possible.'

    Areas of Louisiana and Arkansas that meet similar criteria of groundwater stress. Arkansas designated these areas 'critical groundwater areas'. As of March, 2010 Louisiana has not designated any 'critical groundwater areas' but has designated 'areas of groundwater concern'.

  • Sparta Sustainable Yield and Recovery Requirements


    Sustainability generally means the development and use of ground water in a manner that can be maintained for the present and future time without causing unacceptable environmental, economic, social, or health consequences. This is the definition stated in Louisiana Revised Statute 38:3097.2.11.

    Sustainable Yields and Thresholds of Concern

    Sustainable yield is that quantity of water that can be withdrawn on a continuing basis by reaching a system equilibrium without compromising the integrity of the aquifer or with respect to agreed upon criteria.(9) Sustainable yield is a critical element in identifying and designing viable water supply alternatives. With sustain-able yield defined and knowledge of total water demand in an area, an unmet demand can be calculated.

    Sparta-Louisiana Sustainable Yield

    'The Sparta Groundwater Study' Results
    The Sparta Commission contracted Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix and Hixson, Inc. to determine limitations of the Sparta to meet current and future needs and to test hypothetical conservation approaches. The researchers entered well water level data, pumpage data, and information about Sparta's hydrogeologic properties into a groundwater flow model, USGS-developed (MODFLOW) software. The study area was the Sparta aquifer in north central Louisiana and southeast Arkansas. Predictions covered the time period 2000 to 2025. The resulting 'sustained maximum pumpage rate' of 52 mgd was predicted to result in recovery, not to a pre-pumping state, but to a state of self-renewable stable supply, assuming the Sparta's natural recharge and leakage rates continue close to historic rates. (2)

    The results of the study in 2001 were published in the Sparta Groundwater Study (2):
    • The maximum recommended pumpage from the Sparta is approximately 52 million gallons per day (mgd).
    • To achieve a pumpage rate of 52 mgd, pumpage must be reduced by 18 mgd, from the current pumpage rate of approximately 70 mgd.
    • Decreased pumping must occur across the extent of the entire Sparta region for widespread effect.
    • Developing alternative sources to produce an additional 12 mgd of potable water would provide for future increases in demand for potable water.

    USGS Study by KcKee, Clark, and Czarnecki

    McKee, Clark, and Czarnecki conducted an optimization study regarding actual and optimal withdrawal rates.(8) Components of the optimization study, including the researchers' definition of 'optimal withdrawal', and their data sources, estimations, assumptions, and methods, are reported in a publication of study results (8) and a publication describing project development. (9)

    The researchers note that estimates of sustainable yield are affected by 1) hydraulic-head constraints (the most important factor), and 2) the distribution of managed wells. In terms of hydraulic head constraints, the researchers used for sustainable yield estimates the Arkansas 'critical groundwater area' criterion-water levels above the top of the aquifer. They noted that lowering the hydraulic-head constraint in Louisiana, Louisiana having no established criteria for maintaining hydraulic heads above the top of the Sparta Sand, would increase the amount of estimated sustainable yield for both Arkansas and Louisiana. Non-linear model behavior precluded reliable quantification of the increase. In terms of well distribution, the researchers used the distribution of existing wells in the Sparta aquifer. More strategic well placement might increase the sustainable yield estimates.

Sparta Conservation, Aquifer Recovery, & Future Outlook

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  • Sparta Study: Approach Scenarios and Recommendations

    Sparta Groundwater Study - Approach Scenarios

    Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, and Hixson selected several scenarios of Sparta use, using the ground-flow model described in the section above (5.f.3.a.). For all scenarios, they assumed that Sparta pumpage would be reduced by 8 mgd by El Dorado industries converting from Sparta to surface water. For all scenarios except the 'No Change in Use' scenario they projected demographic changes in the base case Scenario 2.

    For the No Change in Use scenario, the model calculates for well water levels, by the Year 2025: (Ref. 2, p.6-2)
    • in the Ouachita Parish area: recovery of approximately five feet, largely because of decreased pumping in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana and Union County, Arkansas;
    • at the western edge of Ouachita Parish: additional drawdown;
    • in Lincoln and Winn Parishes: additional drawdown greater than 25 feet, (simulation was influenced by pumpage increases, between 1980 to 1999, in Winn Parish (from 1.67 to 3.74 mgd) and Lincoln Parish (from 4.24 to 8.94 mgd).

    Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, and Hixson reported in the Sparta Groundwater Study (2) results of the application of their model to Ouachita Parish, which is at particular risk of salt water intrusion because of heavy pumping in the area and close proximity to the freshwater/saltwater interface. The optimized solutions maintained hydraulic heads at or above the top of the Sparta Sand by the end of the simulation period (2025).

    The researchers reported the following results by Scenarios 1 through 6: (2, pages 6-1 to 6-10)
    • Scenario 1. No Change resulted in an increase in westward hydraulic gradient and associated potential movement westward of the saltwater front. The sustainable yield for Ouachita Parish was 78 percent of the current pumpage rate.
    • Scenario 2. Projected Demographic Changes from 2000 through 2025 (5.5% Higher Usage Rates) resulted in a ten foot decline of water levels in areas of Ouachita Parish, water level declines across the area of the cone of depression, and water level declines in Lincoln and Winn Parishes. The sustainable yield for Ouachita Parish was 71 percent of the pumpage rate. (Scenario 2 was the base case for Scenarios that follow)
    • Scenario 3. Artificial Recharge (14 injection wells near Lake D'Arbonne and along the Ouachita River), replaced less than two percent of amount pumped over twenty years) resulted in a four percent decrease in the west-ward hydraulic gradient. The sustainable yield for Ouachita Parish was 71 percent of the pumpage rate.
    • Scenario 4. Decreased Groundwater Use by Selected Larger Users, Supplemented with Nearby Surface Water (supply from D'Arbonne 4.6 mgd, Bisteneau 2 mgd, Ouachita 7.5 mgd decreased Sparta use from 70 mgd to 42.86 mgd) resulted in reduced hydraulic gradient with accompanying widespread recovery of Sparta water levels, a rebound in the cone of depression in Ouachita Parish, and reduced potential for saltwater migration. The sustainable yield for Ouachita Parish was 100 percent of the pumpage rate.
    • Scenario 5. Water Use Reductions, through Conservation or Recycling (Sparta use decreased by four percent from 2005 forward) resulted in little change over the 'Steady State' scenario. The sustainable yield for Ouachita Parish was 74 percent of the pumpage rate. The researchers concluded that 'Small scale water conservation efforts will not provide significant reduction in water level declines.'
    • Scenario 6. Potential High Use Estimate (groundwater withdrawal increased by 7 percent each 5 years, from 72.8 to 95.4 mgd over 25 years) resulted in a steep increase in hydraulic gradient leading to deeper, wider cones of depression, especially in Ouachita and Winn Parishes, and increased potential for salt-water migration westward. The sustainable yield for Ouachita Parish was 57 percent of the pumpage rate.

    Sparta Groundwater Study - Recommended Approaches to Reduce Sparta Pumpage

    Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, and Hixson reported that the Sparta aquifer can be significantly restored within 25 years with an 18 million gallon per day (mgd) reduction of its current 70 mgd withdrawal rate, and another 12 mgd would provide for population and industrial growth.(2) The recommendation they put forth in greatest detail was to build new surface water treatment plants and pipe the water to current aquifer users. They calculated that, if this is the sole approach used, capital costs in 2001 dollars would be approximately $190 million, operating costs would add to those costs, and financing costs would add more. They suggested that revenue to pay capital and financing costs might be generated by a 1/4 cent sales tax in an eleven parish taxing district, surface water contract sales at $1 per thousand gallons, and groundwater extraction fees at 23 cents per thousand gallons.

    Based on criteria that included area of greatest stress, demographic projections, and evidence of salt water intrusion, Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, and Hixson recommended, as first priority, a 10 mgd project using river water from the Ouachita River at West Monroe to replace Sparta water use. The estimated cost of the project, in 2001, was $55.7 million ($82.8 million in 2009, adjusted for inflation-Ref.22d).

  • Conservation Approaches in the Sparta Aquifer Region

    City of West Monroe Sparta Reuse Project - Under Development in March, 2010

    'Graphic (Packaging) currently pulls 10 million gallons per day from the depleted Sparta Aquifer and another 10 million from the Ouachita River. When the city completes construction of its $20 million facility that will convert wastewater into drinking quality water in 2011, Graphic will use 7 million gallons of the treated water per day, reducing its draw on the Sparta by 70 percent.... We're all about sustainability....That's why company officials are excited about the city of West Monroe's Sparta Reuse Project (Graphic Packaging spokesperson)'.(22a) Pre-2004, West Monroe and West Ouachita Sewer District No. 5 invested almost $1 million in studies and testing.(22b) In 2004, construction of a pilot project began, funded in part by $600,000 in state capital outlay funds.(22b) In 2009, the 'Sparta Reuse Demonstration Project' received priority 1 status for $7.6 million of capital outlay funds, with a $4 million local match.(22c) In 2009, LDEQ selected the project to receive $4.75 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (federal stimulus funds).(20d) An additional advantage of the project is its reduction of wastewater discharge into the Ouachita River. (22e and 22f)

    Bastrop Paper Mill Off the Sparta in 1981

    After a paper mill began operation in Bastrop in 1921, a Sparta cone of depression developed and, over years, extended widely. In 1981, the International Paper Co. (IP) paper mill went off the Sparta. As a result, between 1981 and 1990 the water level in a USGS-monitored Bastrop area well (MO-5) averaged a rise of more than 35 feet. (Figure 28) Unfortunately, in 2008, IP operations in Bastrop closed, and 550 jobs were lost.

    Smurfit-Stone Container Plant Reduced Sparta Use in a 1994-1999 Recycling Project

    From 1994 to 1999, managers of the Smurfit-Stone Container plant, located in Hodge, built a water recycling system, thereby reducing the plant's daily use of Sparta water from 15.32 mgd in 1994 to 8.1 mgd in 2000.(Ref.2, p. 24) The result has been substantial recovery in water levels in the plant's twelve closely spaced wells, from 14 to 38 feet between 1995 and 2000 (2) and continuing. During the five year reporting period, levels in other Bienville Parish wells continued to decline (from 0.4 to 1.44 feet).(2) The extent to which Smurfit-Stone Container's Sparta savings will affect water levels within a wider radius of the plant will become known in time.

    Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project - Well Levels Rise Beginning in 2004

    About the Union County, Arkansas Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project
    Converting El Dorado industries to surface water use in the past decade is resulting in a significant water level rise in Union County wells and in some Louisiana wells, most notably in wells near the border with Arkansas. The aim of the Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project was to reduce Sparta withdrawals by an average nine mgd. As soon as the Union County Water Conservation Board was established, the board began constructing a 65 mgd river intake, pumping stations, settling facilities, and piping to deliver non-potable river water to major industries in Union County. In 2004 and 2005, three major industries converted from Sparta to river water. An ongoing monitoring program is in place to document the widening area of recovery over years. In 2008, the Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project received the Dept. of Interior Cooperative Conservation Award for its successful 'Save the Sparta' public-private partnership endeavor. Ingredients of Union County's Successful Sparta Conservation Program (23.a.)

    Ingredients of Union County's Successful Sparta Conservation Program (23.a.)
    • The State got Union County's attention. Union was among the first five Arkansas counties to be declared, in 1996 by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC), a Critical Groundwater Area; both ANRC and USGS agreed that Union County's situation was the most critical.
    • Union County received a motivating shock: a USGS special report, solicited by Union County with strong support from federal elected officials, told Union County it must cut its aquifer water use by 72 percent or risk inflicting irreparable damage on the aquifer. (Ref. 27-e: USGS study by Hays)
    • State legislation established effective local authority. Act 1050 of 1999 created Critical Groundwater County Conservation Boards, providing them with well-defined state assistance and oversight (ANRC).
      • ALL Sparta stakeholders helped write the legislation. This was accomplished, in part, through many public meetings attended by county residents and representatives of county organizations.
      • ANRC approves locally sought boards that have plans to meet a defined shortage (law specifies board composition and that board members are to receive no compensation).
      • Board powers include: entering into contracts, setting fees, regulating, accepting grants, monitoring wells, generating funds, and conducting investigations related to groundwater use.
      • Arkansas law requires reporting of water use and sets penalties for non-compliance.
    • An empowered board of stakeholders formed. The Union County Water Conservation Board (first appointed, now elected) held its first meeting on June, 24, 1999.
      • The Union County Water Conservation adopted a clear mission statement at its first meeting.
      • Paid professional staff and contracted agents assure effective program components, including: credibility, cooperation, on-going education, efficient administration.
      • An opportunity arose. Union Power Station built a river water treatment facility with capacity to meet both its and Union County's current/future needs; other local industries tied in; Union County paid 27% of cost and Union County now owns and operates the infrastructure.
        • The Public bought-in:
          • They paid 24 cents per 1000 gallons of Sparta water pumped - as provided for by Act 1050 and adopted by the Board in 1999.
          • They voted for a 7-year 1 cent sales tax for a pipeline (cancelled after 4 years, when debt was paid off).
      • Industry bought-in. Industries paid for on-site infrastructure to convert to surface water, and they continue to pay a fee for river water used (originally 56 cents per thousand gallons). One industry spokesman described industry's commitment: 'We're a part of the solution - we have to be if we're to have a community to live in. It made sense to do this and the three big industries recognized it was the right thing to do.'

    Many agencies, organizations, and citizen groups who worked closely together to assure the project's success. The Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project was preceded by voluntary conservation measures by all Union County industries. These voluntary measures resulted in savings of about 10 percent of the total consumption in 1999. The substantial conversion of three industries to lightly-treated Ouachita River water in 2004 resulted in another 40 percent reduction in county-wide Sparta pumpage.

    Alternative Supply Projects Under Study or Under Consideration

    The Union-Lincoln Regional Water Supply Initiative was created as a non-profit organization by officials of Lincoln and Union Parishes, Farmerville, and Ruston. The purpose is to seek surface water supplies as alternatives to some Sparta use. In 2006, federal funding was received to conduct a study of D'Arbonne Lake water quality and water levels.(24) Congressional delegates have helped secure additional funds for the initiative.

    A City of Winnfield Potable Water Supply Reservoir on Port De Luce Initiative is underway. Initial studies have been conducted by USDA, NRCS, and consulting firms.

    In February, 2010, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury approved application for federal funding of a Western Ouachita Parish Water Management Plan, which addresses water supply concerns of Sparta-using City of West Monroe and surrounding unincorporated areas. A Ruston Leader article reported that the plan would identify major Sparta users and consider the development of a major water reservoir. The report continued that plans for a 3500 acre reservoir have been drawn and that the project now needs permits and funding. Police Juror and Sparta Commission Vice Chairman Mack Calhoun is quoted: '(Police Jurors) understand the most important thing in this parish is drinking water for the people and having enough water to attract new businesses.'

    Improvements in Efficiency of Water Supply Systems

    Area legislators sponsored a Town Hall Meeting, with the Louisiana Rural Water Association (LRWA), at the Ruston Civic Center on March 22, 2007. Among points made (Ruston Leader July 13, 2007):
    • The average amount of water loss for any given area due to leaks is 10 to 15 percent. A LRWA review of 29 of the 177 systems within Louisiana's Sparta Aquifer area revealed an approximate 30 percent unaccounted for water withdrawn from the aquifer, either because records failed to reflect all water use or because of water loss.
    • Some factors that contribute to Sparta water loss: aging water systems, inadequate or lack of regular water audits, faulty water meters, no master meters, water operator turnover, low and flat water rates that provide no incentive to conserve, unmetered consumers, water systems too small to generate revenue needed for adequate maintenance, and lack of personal responsibility, e.g. sprinklers on when it's raining.
    • Conservation can go a long way toward restoring the Sparta aquifer to its pre-overpumped state.
    • Among measures (first line) metering, water audits, water rate structuring to reflect the true value and cost of water, and a leak detection program; (second line) consolidating some water systems and local conservation incentives and penalties; (last resort) state-government mandates. LRWA Executive Director Patrick Credeur remarked, 'All the systems need to review their rate structures and make sure they are charging a reasonable price so there will enough (money) in reserve if something breaks.'
    • If local practices are unwise, it is hard to justify asking for state or federal money to develop new sources of water supply.

    'Town of Dubach Water Not Accounted For Falls From 67 to 3 Percent'.(Ruston Leader July 26, 2007) Dubach received a 2007 Energy Conservation System of the Year award from Louisiana Rural Water Association for this achievement. Unaccounted for water was due mostly to broken water lines and meters. Mayor Margaret Rogers stated, 'This actually saves the town money because it costs a lot of money to pump this water.'

    Town of Homer Sparta Success Story (by Ronnie Anderson January 24, 2007, in records of the Claiborne Parish Watershed District). The Homer Sewage Plant was redesigned. Formerly, the plant used an estimated one million gallons of Sparta water per month to inject chemicals to treat sewage to meet discharge standards and additional water through jets to mix the waste water. By the new design, pumps were installed to recycle wastewater for injecting the treatment chemicals, and the jets were eliminated. The cost, $3000, was quickly paid for in water savings.

  • Signs of Some Recovery

    Conservation approaches have contributed to stabilization of withdrawal rates over the past decade at approxixmately 70 mgd, still exceeding 52 mgd, the withdrawal rate recommended in the Sparta Groundwater Study (2). Largely as a result of the Ouachita River Alternative Supply Project, the project's recovery study wells, and some Louisiana Sparta USGS Real-Time wells are showing some degree of water level rise, most notable near the Arkansas border. Because response to major reductions in withdrawals occurs over years, the Sparta Recovery Study will continue to provide data to lead to better understanding of the aquifer and its potential yield.

  • Looking to the Future

    The volume and distribution of withdrawal of water from the Sparta aquifer will determine whether there will be further degradation of the aquifer or whether Sparta well water levels will recover substantially, and, if the latter, what the time to recovery will be. (2, 8)

    One approach is to increase potable water supplies by injection wells and by developing surface water alter-natives. The Ouachita River Alternative Supply Project in El Dorado, Arkansas is an important example of the latter. Also, Sparta Groundwater Study authors proposed projects to treat and pipe existing surface water in the Sparta region.(2) The City of West Monroe Wastewater Recycle Project (22) promises to serve much of the aim of the first prioritized project, which would draw from the Ouachita River. The Union-Lincoln Regional Water Supply Initiative, under study, was assigned second priority in the Sparta Groundwater Study. (2) Reservoirs are under study or consideration in Winn and Ouachita Parishes. New multi-purpose reservoirs in the recharge area have been suggested as a means to enhance aquifer recharge, with most benefit to immediately surrounding areas, while providing new surface water sources and paying for themselves by attracting retirees.

    Another approach is to decrease demand for water. Conservation programs can consist of any or all of a number of measures, including on-going education and incentives to use water-sparing technology, reduce outdoor watering, repair water system leaks, and retrofit water-efficient fixtures. Water system managers can implement a tiered rate structure, source and end use metering, and best management practices in operation and maintenance. In EPA's 'Cases in Water Conservation' (25), seventeen water systems, each implementing a different set of strategic water-use-efficiency programs, were able to achieve reductions in water use ranging from seven percent to thirty percent. Savings often allowed systems to defer or avoid significant expenditures for water supply facilities and wastewater facilities. Maddaus and Maddaus (26) used a model to provide a benefit cost analysis of water conservation measures for one hundred communities over five years. Their key conclusions were that plumbing fixture requirements represent a large portion of water and waste water savings; the majority of program benefits come from deferring new supply and treatment projects; measures that reduce peak demand can produce high benefit-cost ratios; technology to reduce demands significantly is readily available; and demand reductions through conservation of 10 to 20percent over 20 to 30 years are often cost-effective.

    Aquifer conservation education is ongoing in the Sparta area. Through individual and local group efforts a Sparta video, 'Our Lives, Our Water', was produced. The video is available at Trailblazers and the Sparta Commission office. The media disseminate Sparta information. The 'City of Ruston Water Utilities: Frequently Asked Questions' webpage is an example of a city's informing the public about the Sparta and ways to conserve water. In Claiborne Parish, public and private schools have teamed with LSU AgCenter and the parish Watershed District Commission to provide an annual Waterfest, a water resources education day at Lake Claiborne State Park for all parish sixth graders. The Sparta Commission encourages programs, such as Waterfest and Project Wet, a program to reach children, parents, teachers and the community with water education. The Sparta Commission's educator and consultant conduct awareness activities, tying in with national and state campaigns such as national Groundwater Awareness Week. They collaborate, as opportunities arise, with civic and social groups, The LDNR Office of Conservation's Groundwater Resources Program, and other agencies and organizations. The Sparta Commission rotates its meetings, bringing its information to each major Sparta-using parish.

    The aim of educational outreach is to build a culture of care for the Sparta, because, in the end, Sparta aquifer protection and conservation will be founded upon public awareness and public appreciation of the Sparta aquifer.

Sparta Conservation, Aquifer Recovery, & Future Outlook

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  • Studies of the Sparta Aquifer in Southern Arkansas & Northern Louisiana

    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been a principal source of data and modeling software used in investigations of the Sparta Aquifer in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. USGS works with DNR, the Department of Transportation and Development (LDOTD), the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District Commission, Union County (Arkansas) Water Conservation Board, the Sparta Commission, and others.

    Studies of Regional Geohydrologic Characteristics

    Geohydrologic characteristics of the Sparta Aquifer in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana have been reported by, among others, Payne (1968), Hosman (1968, 1982), Broom et al (1984), Petersen et al (1985), Williamson et al (1990), Arthur and Taylor (1990, 1998), Fitzpatrick et al (1990), Brantly et al (1996), and Joseph (1998-2000). The reports by Payne, by Hosman, by Joseph, and by Brantly et al include potentiometric maps. Groundwater resources in specific areas of the Sparta region have been described by Sanford (1973-Morehouse, Ruston), Ryals (1982-Arcadia, Minden), and Trudeau and Buono (1985-West Monroe). References are provided by Brantly et al (3) and McKee and Clark (9). In 2002, Tomaszewski, Lovelace, and Ensminer published potentiometric maps constructed from USGS Sparta monitoring well water level data. (Ref. 15 and Figure 20)

    Regional Ground-water Models as key water management tools

    Water managers and users have been concerned about the ability of the Sparta aquifer to supply water for the long term in view of hydraulic head (well water level) decline greater than 1 foot per year for many years in many areas and hydraulic heads now below the top of the Sparta Sand in some areas. (8, 9)

    In response to these concerns, in 1985, the USGS, with the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission (ASWCC) and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development began a project to study the hydrogeologic characteristics of the Sparta aquifer and evaluate the regional effects of increased pumpage. The primary product was a study using groundwater flow model MODFLOW88 software to simulate hydraulic heads in central and south Arkansas and north Louisiana from 1889 to 1985. (Fitzpatrick and others, 1990; McWreath and others, 1991; Kilpatrick, 1992) The researchers updated pumping data and predicted pumping scenarios on hydraulic heads in southern Arkansas from 1990-2019. Hays et al (1998) updated pumping data again and tested scenarios in south Arkansas and northern Louisiana, from 1998 to 2027. These studies are listed under Reference 27: 'Sparta Louisiana-south Arkansas Groundwater Models'.

    In 2001, Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, Hixson, with others, in a study for the Sparta Groundwater Conservation District Commission using MODFLOW software, optimized withdrawal rates to determine Sparta sustainable yields and to predict effects of different scenarios on hydraulic heads in Sparta wells in Louisiana from 2000 to 2025. (2)

    In 2000 to 2002, USGS, ASWCC, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked cooperatively to modify and recalibrate the models of Fitzpatrick, McWreath and others for the purpose of evaluating potential pumping scenarios and optimizing withdrawal rates to determine sustainable yield for the Sparta aquifer in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. (8, 9) This is part of a continuing project to develop, maintain, and utilize numerical ground-water flow models as a water management tool.

  • References Cited in This Report

    1. McKee PW and Hays PD. The Sparta Aquifer: A Sustainable Water Resource? USGS Fact Sheet 111-02, Nov., 2004 Author cites McWreath HC, Nelson JD, Fitzpatrick DJ, 1991 (Ref. 27b)
    2. Meyer, Meyer, LeCroix, Hixson, Inc. with co-authors Lazenby and Associates, Louisiana Tech University School of Business, URS Corporation, Charles W. Smoot and Frye-Magee. Sparta Groundwater Study: A Study Commissioned by the Sparta Groundwater Conservation District Commission. 2002 Authors cite McWreath HC, Nelson JD, Fitzpatrick DJ, 1991 (Ref. 27b).
    3. Brantly, JA, Seanor RC, & McCoy, KL Louisiana Ground-Water Map No. 13: Hydrogeology and Potentiometric Surface of the Sparta Aquifer in Northern Louisiana, Oct. 1996, US Dept. Interior, USGS, in collaboration with LDOTD, published 2002 [USGS WRIR 02-4053]
    4. Two sources of geohydrologic information:
    5. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), Environmental Evaluation Division. Sparta Aquifer Summary, Baseline Monitoring Project, Fy 2007. Appendix 1 of the Triennial Summary Report, 2009. / Sparta Aquifer Summary, Baseline Monitoring Project, Fy 2004. Appendix 1 of the Triennial Summary Report, 2006.
    6. Fenstermaker, et al. Assistance in Developing the Statewide Groundwater Management Plan. Dec. 2002.
    7. Clark BR and Hart RM. The Mississippi Embayment Regional Aquifer Study (MERAS): Documentation of a Groundwater-Flow Model Constructed to Assess Water Availability in the Mississippi Embayment. USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5172, 2009
    8. McKee PW, Clark BR, and Czarnecki JB. Conjunctive-use Optimization Model and Sustainable-yield Estimation for the Sparta Aquifer of Southeastern Arkansas and North-central Louisiana. USGS Water Resources Investigation Report (WRIR) 03-4231 Pub. Date: 2004 Specifically:
    9. McKee, PW and Clark, BR. Development and Calibration of a Ground-Water Flow Model for the Sparta Aquifer of Southeastern Arkansas and North-Central Louisiana and Simulated Response to Withdrawals, 1998-2027 Pub. date: 2003 USGS WRIR 03-4132
    10. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ). Estimates of Average Ground Water Velocities in Louisiana Aquifers and Delineation of Source Water Protection Areas. refers to: Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS) for LDEQ. Recharge Potential of Louisiana Aquifers, 1989
    11. National Resources Conservation Services. Summary of Ground Water Conditions in the Grand Prairie and Bayou Meto Study Areas of Eastern Arkansas
      • National Water Summary, 1986 - Groundwater Quality Louisiana, p. 273. USGS Water Supply Paper 2325
    12. Carlson, D. and Van Biersel, T. Is Chloride Concentration Increasing in the Sparta Aquifer of North-Central Louisiana?Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions, v. 59.
    13. USGS.
    14. Sargent PB (USGS) Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development. Water Use in Louisiana, 2005. Water Resources Special Report Number 16, 2007. (USGS in cooperation with LDOTD have published 'Water Use in Louisiana' every five years since 1960. Water use by water source is reported by parish, by type of use, and by major water users, including specific public water systems).
    15. Tomaszewski, DJ, Lovelace, JK, Ensminger PA. Water Withdrawals and Trends in Ground-Water Levels and Stream Discharge in Louisiana DOTD & USGS, Water Resources Technical Report No. 68, 2002.
    16. Haynesville Shale references:
    17. Louisiana Dept. of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation, Environmental Division. SONRIS database. Sonris Lite:
    18. Burton GA and Pitt R. Stormwater Effects Handbook: A Toolbox for Watershed Managers, Scientists, and Engineers. 2002 Water Quality Criteria, p. 832 View Online
    19. USGS Water Science for Schools: Groundwater Depletion.
    20. Sparta Groundwater Conservation District Commission. Application for Portions of the Sparta Groundwater Aquifer to Be Declared a Critical Groundwater Area Submitted to the Louisiana Groundwater Management Com-mission, final revised version 8/15/2002.Application About the Application Public Hearing on Application
    21. Louisiana Dept. of Natural Resources. Office of Conservation Order No. AGC-1-05 (re: designation of Sparta areas of groundwater concern) August 15, 2005.
    22. City of West Monroe Sparta Reuse Project:
    23. Ouachita River Sparta Alternative Project - Union County Water Conservation Board
    24. Union-Lincoln Regional Water Supply Project. Some information: -
    25. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. Cases in Water Conservation: How Efficiency Programs Can Help Water Utilities Save Water and Control Costs. (4204M) EPA832-B-02-003 July 2002
    26. Maddaus WO and Maddaus ML. Evaluating Water Conservation Cost-Effectiveness with an End Use Model. Proceedings 2004 Water Sources Conference, AWWA, Austin Texas, January 12-14, 2004
    27. Sparta Louisiana-south Arkansas Groundwater Models (summarized in USGS powerpoint presentation to Louisiana Groundwater Resources Commission at a workshop in Baton Rouge in August, 2009)
      • Fitzpatrick DJ, Kilpatrick JM, and McWreath H. (1988) Geohydrologic characteristics and simulated response to pumping stresses in the Sparta in east-central Arkansas. USGS WRIR 88-4201, 50p.
      • McWreath HC, Nelson JD, and Fitzpatrick DJ (1991). Simulated response to pumping stresses in Sparta northern La. and southern Arkansas (1889-1985). LDOTD Water Resources Technical Report No. 51, 51p.
      • Kilpatrick, JM (1992). Simulated response to future pumping in the Sparta aquifer, Union County, Arkansas, 1990-2019. USGS WRIR 91-4161, 25p.
      • Hays PD, Lovelace JK, and Reed, TB (1998). Simulated response to pumping stress in the Sparta aquifer of southeastern Arkansas and north-central Louisiana, 1998-2027. USGS WRIR 98-4121, 25p.
      • Hays, PD, 2000. Sustainable-yield estimation for the Sparta aquifer in Union County, AR. USGS WRIR 99-4274.