With fanfare a few days ago, officials of several agencies and members of the public smiled and shook hands. Minimum flow began.
The term has been batted around for ages, and it simply means enough water coming down the White River in north Arkansas to keep trout healthy.
To explain the situation, late summer and early fall can be dangerous for trout because river water dwindles, cutting off oxygen supplies for the fish. Most of the year, enough water comes through Bull Shoals Dam and Norfork Dam in excess water releases and in generating electricity, so the fish are fine.
In drought times, however, the water is shut off to keep lake levels high enough for power generating in the near future. Electricity supplies are shifted. And the trout suffer.
Folks in the trout fishing business and fisheries biologists argued for many years that the solution to the problem was to let a little water through the dams in these drought periods. They said the amount needed to keep the trout going would not affect the electricity generating situation.
But Southwest Power Pool was adamant. This is the federal agency that controls electricity production all through this area, including at the White River dams.
“We are not giving up any of our water.” The message came in different words, but this was the bottom line.
Fingers of blame were pointed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but that was not accurate. The Corps of Engineers operates the dams all right, but it adheres to requirements of contracts with the electricity people.
Meeting after meeting was held trying to solve the issue, and the meetings go back more than a half century. They intensified in the 1990s, then subsided. It finally took congressional action to achieve what seems so simple on the surface. Let a little water through the dams and down the river.
No one tried to say the trout were more important than peoples’ need for electricity.
Richard Davies, director of the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department, made a notable comment at one of those 1990s meetings.
“We are not trying to turn out the lights in Kansas City.”
Someone had commented that the power from Bull Shoals and Norfork dams went mostly to Missouri and not to Arkansas.
Several attempts were made to help put more oxygen down river in times of drought. Generator turbine blades were fitted with auxiliary devices to force more oxygen into the water. If this helped, it was only a small amount.
Over and over, the plea was for just a little water through the dams. It finally has come about.
Trout fishing on the White River developed because the dams wiped out the native warm water fish. In the heyday of major dam construction from the 1940s well into the 1960s, water releases were from the bottom of the lakes, meaning cold water. Bass, crappie, bream and catfish could not survive for many miles downstream from the dams.
But trout could.
A new industry evolved, and it blossomed into an annual multi-million dollar activity. Trout fishing is a solid feature of the Arkansas outdoors now.
(Mr. 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.)