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Rebuilding and Repairing a Piece of History

Posted by Creston Shrum, NRCS in Conservation
May 15, 2019
Construction crews working on a dam
Construction crews working on the dam in October 2018.

On any sunny day in Faulkner County, Arkansas, you will find people boating, swimming, and camping at Lake Bennett in Wooley Hollow State Park. This 40-acre lake was named after Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett, the first chief of USDA’s Soil Conservation Service, today known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

In April 2017, that peaceful setting was threatened when record rainfall and floodwaters caused the downstream face to erode on the lake’s 80-year-old dam. The major weather event reduced the stability for the masonry rock core of the dam.

Partnering to Reduce the Danger

Although the dam was still fully functioning, the downstream slope had to be repaired. Without repair, the erosion could cause the dam to burst, washing out roads, flooding the Park Ranger’s home, and releasing tons of sediment. The community turned to the NRCS for help.

“Funding through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program helped to rebuild the back slope of the dam to its stable, pre-disaster condition,” said Walt Delp, state engineer for NRCS in Arkansas. “Being able to work on a project 80 years after our agency’s founder established has been an honor.”

NRCS partnered with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism on the Lake Bennett EWP project. Sharing the cost for construction, NRCS also provided engineering assistance and ADPT provided administrative support.

EWP allows communities to quickly address serious and long-lasting damages to infrastructure and to the land by assisting local sponsors to prevent of further damage from natural disasters.

Preserving the History

Making the repairs to the dam also preserved an important piece of conservation history. Lake Bennett watershed project was built in 1935 in partnership with the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps to study the effects of water run-off, silt, and erosion.

This was the first project in the United States built to scientifically study a specific watershed. As a result of these studies, a new philosophy of land management was born.

Principles tested at Lake Bennett laid the foundation for soil conservation practices considered common today. Strip cropping, terracing, crop rotation and planting soil-retaining vegetation are now soil protection methods used nationwide.

“With the historical significance of the structure and the impact it has had on soil conservation across the country, I’m thankful I had a part in ensuring that the dam is here for years to come,” Delp said.

More Information

USDA offers a variety of risk management, disaster assistance, loan, and conservation programs to help agricultural producers across the country weather ups and downs in the market and recover from natural disasters as well as invest in improvements to their operations. Learn about additional programs.

For more information about USDA programs and services, contact your local USDA service center.

Matthew Woodard, Woolly Hollow State Park Superintendent, and Walter Delp atop Lake Bennett Dam
Matthew Woodard, Woolly Hollow State Park Superintendent, and Walter Delp atop Lake Bennett Dam highlighting the dam’s EWP work.
Category/Topic: Conservation