LITTLE ROCK — About $11.4 million for two major water irrigation projects critical to farmers in eastern Arkansas — Grand Prairie and Bayou Meto irrigation projects — has been identified and approval is pending before the U.S. House, state and local officials working on the two projects heard Tuesday.
Tracy James, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers senior project manager for the Bayou Meto project, said the proposal would move $4.4 million now designated for levee projects near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Bayou Meto project, and $7 million to the Grand Prairie project.
"We’re hoping these funds come in pretty soon," James said, adding he did not not know when the issue would be come up for a vote.
He did say he was concerned because Congress has its summer recess in August and the federal fiscal year ends at the end of September.
"We’re in uncharted territory given the politics and this is an an election year … and what effects this is going to have on the funding, " said Paul Hamm, overall project manager with the Corps.,
The two met with Randy Young, executive director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, and officials with the Bayou Meto Irrigation District Tuesday afternoon to discuss the project and potential funding source.
Young, officials with the Grand Prairie Irrigation District, along with Corps officials met and had similar discussions during a meeting Tuesday morning.
Young said last week that the congressional ban on earmarks has caused a funding shortfall for the two projects and if funding isn’t obtained soon both projects might have to be mothballed.
Up until two years ago, the projects had been funded by earmarks, a process where Congress directed federal funding to individual projects in their home states. That funding process was banned in the U.S. House after some said it was "pork barrel"politics and went to unnecessary and contributed to the federal deficit.
Gene Sullivan, executive director of the Bayou Meto Irrigation District, said it’s important for both projects to get Corps funding this fiscal year.
"If we don’t get any money this year it’s going to awfully hard" to get funding next year," he said.
The $575 million Bayou Meto Project, which is about 13 percent complete, will pump water from the Arkansas River to reservoirs in Arkansas, Jefferson, Lonoke, Prairie and Pulaski Counties. The water will then be sold to farmers in the region. The project also includes on-farm water reservoirs and tailwater recovery systems.
The $450 million Grand Prairie Irrigation Project, about 23 percent complete, will divert water from the White River to more than 1,000 farmers in Arkansas, Lonoke, Monroe and Prairie counties. The project, which will be 50 miles in length when completed, also includes on-farm conservation in the form of reservoirs and tailwater recovery systems.