FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. — University of Arkansas researchers have embarked on a watershed management and development plan to improve ecological services and quality of life in Conway, Ark., and surrounding Faulkner County. Two service units of the university — the Community Design Center and the Division of Agriculture’s Ecological Engineering Group — will collaborate to design and develop a low-impact development plan for the Lake Conway Urban Watershed, which has suffered in recent years due to rapid urban growth.

“Lake Conway and its watershed experience chronic impairment from sedimentation, erosion, flooding and pollution,” said Steve Luoni, professor of architecture and director of the Community Design Center. “These consequences of rapid urban growth are incompatible with healthy watershed functioning. We will develop a model urban plan that will restore, preserve and deliver ecological services without compromising typical urban services.”

The three-year project is funded by a $498,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — administered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission — and matching funds from the city of Conway, Faulkner County, the University of Central Arkansas, the Village at Hendrix and the Lake Conway Property Owners Association.

As principal investigator, Luoni will coordinate and manage all project activities. He and Marty Matlock, professor of biological and agricultural engineering and director of the Ecological Engineering Group, will lead a team of ecological and civil engineers, regional planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects. Their work will be structured around the concept of ecosystem services, which uses green urban infrastructure — streets, parking lots and greenways along riparian corridors — to treat and remove pollution from runoff rather than simply transporting pollutants to a body of water — in this case, Lake Conway and Point Remove on the Arkansas River.

Luoni, Matlock and their respective staffs are responsible for developing the plan and public demonstration projects. Metroplan, central Arkansas’ regional planning authority, will lead community participation workshops, and many institutional partners — the city of Conway, Faulkner County, Hendrix College, the University of Central Arkansas and the Lake Conway Watershed Advocacy Group — have committed resources to implement demonstration projects.

The overall goal of the project is to put together and implement a low-impact development and urban watershed plan that offers different ways to restore water quality while enhancing the quality of place. Matlock and Luoni are developing models for eco-cities based on the project’s ecosystem services concept. The project will be designed to decrease lake sedimentation and the loading of pollutants and nutrients in feeder streams.

The university’s Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture. The Ecological Engineering Group is part of the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas.

Luoni is holder of the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies. Matlock is executive director of the university’s Office for Sustainability.