SPRINGDALE -- The state is investigating a report that a firm hired to haul an estimated 117,000 gallons of wastewater from Bethel Heights applied it to land east of Springdale without a permit, officials confirmed Monday.

Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality officials said the investigation involves White River Environmental Services and land owned by Harold Parsons. The land is in the White River watershed.

Jeff LeMaster, a policy adviser for the department's Office of Water Quality, said the agency has no record of a permit allowing White River to discharge wastewater at that site or elsewhere.

The hauler, upon request, provided the state with coordinates for an access gate to the land on Parsons Road, LeMaster said. White River Environmental told the department this was where the Bethel Heights wastewater was applied in late August, LeMaster said.

"We've requested records from both the city and White River," LeMaster continued. "But it's still too early to tell who's at fault."

Emails sent Monday to Bethel Heights Mayor Cindy Black and Robert Rhoads, an attorney representing the city, were not returned Monday night.

The White River flows into Beaver Lake. The Beaver Water District serves 358,00 customers through four cities — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville. Three other utilities provide water from the lake for their customers.

The Environmental Quality Department issued a letter Sept. 4 telling Bethel Heights to stop sending waste to private land.

White River Environmental Services has taken 16 loads of 4,000 gallons of the city's wastewater to the Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority's water treatment plant in south Bentonville, according to that plant's records. That totals 64,000 gallons of wastewater.

Records provided by the state included three invoices to Bethel Heights from White River Environmental. The conservation authority documents listed 26 loads of 4,500 gallons each taken from the city's treatment plant between Aug. 12 and Aug. 23 and Sept. 3 to Sept. 6.

Bethel Heights' two wastewater plants have operated for at least five years out of compliance with their permits, according to records from the state.

The Environmental Quality Department's latest enforcement actions began in February when the city again was found operating out of compliance with its treatment permit.

The state now requires the city to take weekly testing samples at its plants. The latest results, from tests taken Sept. 6, included pictures of water pooling on the surface of a plant's treatment fields with continued high levels of E. coli and coliform recorded.

"Beaver Water District, along with other partners, monitors water quality in the Beaver Lake watershed," said a statement from the utility company Monday. "The water quality in Beaver Lake and the protection of the lake as a drinking water source is one of the district's greatest concerns."

The utility is aware of the improper disposal of wastewater from the Bethel Heights wastewater system and will work with the Environmental Quality Department, the Arkansas Department of Health and other regulatory agencies as needed to stay informed about any actions concerning this matter, the letter said.

Parsons in a phone call Monday said the action on his land was permitted, that he was shown a permit by a White River official.

"The landowner does not necessarily have to have a separate permit, but the land in question must be covered as part of the applicator's no-discharge permit through a land-use agreement with the landowner," said Jacob Harper, a spokesman for the department.

"Such an agreement would be part of the applicator's permit, and the agreement would have to be maintained throughout the life of the permit."

Parsons said White River applied its load to his land as fertilizer. Several generations of the Parsons family have operated cattle farms near Harold Parsons' land along Parsons Road.

Dwain Parsons, the son of Harold Parsons, has similar applications to his land by other companies, which are permitted, according to the state Department of Health. He said the family uses the fields as pasture for his livestock.

The Environmental Quality Department originally reported Joe Reed of Ready Rooter owned the land on which the wastewater was applied.

Industrial wastewater, bio solids, water treatment residuals and domestic wastewater all can be permitted by the department for disposal, Harper said. The state Health Department issues permits for the application of septage.

The wastewater from Bethel Heights can be land-applied with a proper permit, Harper said. The wastewater from a treatment plant should have gone through a different, more thorough treatment process than other types of wastewater, he said.

Records from the conservation authority show it received roughly 86,000 gallons of Bethel Heights' wastewater from BBB Septic and Portable Toilet Service of Bentonville in September.

The conservation authority recorded only one load of Bethel Heights wastewater from White River in August. But plant employees recorded 88,100 gallons from BBB that same month.

The state on Aug. 6 ordered Bethel Heights to remove wastewater by truck from its treatment plants daily rather than try to treat it. The state ordered the city to remove 25% of its daily 80,000 gallons of wastewater -- or no less than 20,000 gallons a day -- until wastewater stopped surfacing on the treatment plants' drip fields.

The conservation authority's records indicate it has received about 16,000 gallons of water a day since Sept. 4.

The state regulatory agency Aug. 16 sent a notice to the city detailing $122,000 of fines possible for polluting the ground, operating the plant out of compliance with its permit and providing false statements in its reporting to the agency.

Bethel Heights' wastewater treatment plants were found out of compliance in 2013, 2015 and 2017. The Environmental Quality Department asked the city for corrective plans in each case. The city was found out of compliance again in 2018.

State officials on May 6 ordered Bethel Heights wastewater and city officials to submit a plan for cleaning and repairing its plant. The state ordered the plan after a February inspection found numerous permit violations.

The department called the correction plan "inadequate" Aug. 16. The state said the plan didn't include all of the required elements.

The state asked Springdale Water Utilities in early June to refuse water service for new customers in Bethel Heights. Springdale supplies water to the neighboring town.

CORRECTION: The Beaver Water District serves 358,00 customers through four cities — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville. Three other utilities provide water from the lake for their customers. The total number of water customers who are served from Beaver Lake was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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