Special to the Minden Press-Herald
Eric Fletcher, President of AGRED Foundation, owner of Lake Erling, bordering Bossier and Webster Parishes, disclosed to the Springhill Rotary Club that he has commitments from investors for funding a potable water supply venture using Lake Erling water.
“The first phase of the project will cost approximately 120 million dollars,” said Fletcher. Jobs will be created, beginning with construction of a purification plant at south end of the lake.
“This water will be available for communities in Southwest Arkansas and Northwest Louisiana with a limit so the ecology of the lake won’t suffer,” he added.
Fletcher spoke about the value of water and how Lake Erling can reduce depletion of the Sparta aquifer which is vital to commercial development and general well-being of North Louisiana and Southwest Arkansas.
He said the volume of Erling water going downstream to Red River and into the Gulf of Mexico for nine months each year is 180 million gallons per day.
He stressed that using this Lake Erling surface water is a significant move that will ease depletion of the Sparta aquifer. The Sparta is the main supplier of subsurface water from Caddo Parish to the Ouachita River.
He compared Cross Lake to Lake Erling in their abilities to produce surface water for their regions. According to published data, Lake Erling’s watershed basin is seventy-two percent of Cross Lake’s and Cross Lake is the water source for Shreveport.
Fletcher is a native of South Africa and a citizen of the United States. He founded AGRED 21 years ago to raise money for conservation of African wildlife. After reaching his objectives for that purpose, these efforts were no longer needed.
Fletcher continued maintaining The AGRED Foundation in compliance with the IRS. Seven years ago he was about to shut down the foundation when a series of events and unexpected opportunities resulted in International Paper (IP) donating Lake Erling to AGRED.
At one event an IP land manager asked Fletcher, “Would you like to own Lake Erling?” (At that time, Fletcher didn’t know that IP had been trying for thirteen years to give the lake to the state of Arkansas.) After nine month due diligence reviews, IP transferred Lake Erling to AGRED.
AGRED’s Lake Erling property ownership is approximately 8,300 acres at the border of Columbia and Lafayette Counties in Arkansas. It is one of the largest privately owned lakes in the country.
The U S Army Corp of Engineers has confirmed to AGRED that whoever owns the lake can drain it and create a wetland mitigation bank. Fletcher emphasized that this is something he does not want to happen.
Fetcher said basic maintenance on Lake Erling runs about $170,000 per year and the fairest way to fund that work is with a fee for using the lake. He said every state or federally owned lake in America charges a usage fee.
Since becoming owner of Lake Erling, AGRED has spent more than $800,000 to maintain and improve the lake. A small sampling of lake upgrades include park improvements, boat ramp repairs, more lighting and power, regular trash pickup, clearing ten miles of boat channels and many more. The emergency spillway was fixed. Water control structures were switched from manual to electric.
In an enthusiastic closing Fletcher said, “It may seem insurmountable to make Lake Erling an economically viable asset for the people of this area, but I will get it done!”