Lake Norrell is a 280-acre manmade lake in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties). Construction of the lake began in 1953 by what later became Benton Utilities as a backup water source for the City of Benton (Saline County) in response to a water shortage at the time. Lake Norrell was named after U.S. Representative William Frank Norrell (1896–1961). Declared complete on April 1, 1954, the lake holds a reported 2.5 billion gallons of water and has a twelve-mile shoreline. Located approximately seventeen miles from Benton, Lake Norrell is stocked with fish by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and is used mainly for boating, fishing, scuba diving, and picnicking.
By the summer of 1952, the Saline River was running noticeably low. The water crisis was averted when officials from the Benton Waterworks Commission sought help from the Little Rock Waterworks Department (which later became Central Arkansas Water). A deal was reached, and after the creation of Lake Winona and the Alum Fork Dam on the Saline River, a reported five million gallons per day would be sent to Saline County from then on. The City of Benton applied for a $224,945 federal grant to build Lake Norrell. The grant was approved by Acting Administrator B. P. Fitzpatrick of the Housing and Home Finance Agency. In July 1952, it was reported that a seventy-eight-foot-tall dam was to be constructed “for 1,000 feet across Brushy Creek, a tributary of the Saline River, a concrete spillway, 400 ft of 30-inch pipe and a gate valve.” The new lake was created to service the city of Benton and the Alcoa plant in Bauxite (Saline County).
Brushy Creek Dam was designed by Marion L. Crist and Associates of Little Rock (Pulaski County). Construction was done by Jeffery, Lawrence & Tilley of Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in 1953. The dam was built at a reported cost of $300,000 and contains 400,000 cubic yards of dirt. Clearing of the area was done by Benton Plumbing Company. The finished Brushy Creek Dam was 1,100 feet long, and according to the Arkansas Democrat on November 12, 1953, the finished dam was 110 feet at its highest point. The concrete spillway was fifty feet wide and twelve feet deep. Construction of the dam began in April 1953 and finished that October. The 280-acre lake was expected to be filled by February 1954. In April 1954, Wyatt B. Crawford, chairman of Benton Municipal Light and Waterworks, stated that the lake was to be used as a water source only in case of a drought.
Noted poet and columnist Anna Nash Yarbrough published a column about the recently completed Lake Norrell for the Arkansas Democrat on August 8, 1954, featuring annotated photos of the lake, Brushy Creek Dam, and the large concrete spillway. According to Yarbrough, the Lake Norrell project had made engineering news because it had cost the City of Benton just $75,000 and the federal government $225,000 “to create a reserve which will relieve the city of the threat of future water shortages.” A new well and water system for visitors was installed a year later in 1955.
Another water shortage occurred in early 1990. In January of that year, the Arkansas Department of Health granted permission for the City of Benton to use Lake Norrell as a temporary water source and declared that swimming must stop. Some of the lake’s sixty-five permanent residents and owners of 238 homes, cabins, and other structures were expected to protest, according to Robert Cloud, the president of the Lake Norrell Area Association. Benton mayor Rodney Larsen presented plans for a new reservoir for permanent use to the Department of Health on February 12. Larsen proposed a 590-acre lake on Dog Creek west of Lake Norrell so that any pipeline to Norrell could easily be extended to the new source. Larsen added that such a pipeline would guarantee up to nine million gallons a day. Residents of the Lake Norrell area met at Pleasant Hill Methodist Church to discuss using the lake as a water source, but the Benton City Council had already approved a pipeline to Lake Norrell.
In April 1990, it was reported that the Arkansas Department of Health had discovered that, in 1954, a lumber company co-owned by the chairman of the defunct Benton Utilities Board of Commissioners had sold the original sixty-eight lots at Lake Norrell with septic tanks despite being warned against it. The Department of Health ruled that the resulting pollutants left Lake Norrell unsuitable as a direct water source. The decision was made to use its waters only to keep the Saline River flowing. In 2005, a major paper company sold much of its land bordering Lake Norrell for residential use. In the twenty-first century, Lake Norrell is surrounded by modern homes and fishing cabins.
For additional information:
“Benton.” Arkansas Democrat, June 12, 1955, p. 4.
“Benton Dam Completed.” Arkansas Democrat, November 12, 1953, p. 40.
“Benton to Use Lake Norrell as Water Source.” Arkansas Democrat, January 26, 1990, p. 16.
“Dam Guards Benton from Water Crisis.” Arkansas Gazette, April 11, 1954, p. 3.
Yarbrough, Anna Nash. “Benton’s New Lake to Relieve Water Shortage.” Arkansas Democrat, August 8, 1954, p. 52.
Thompson, Doug. “Benton Official Profited; City Waters Shriveled.” Arkansas Democrat, April 8, 1990, p. 21.
———. “Lake Plans Spur Meeting in Benton.” Arkansas Democrat, February 20, 1990, p. 17.
———. “Mayor Set to Propose Water Plan.” Arkansas Democrat, February 6, 1990, p. 16.
Cody Lynn Berry
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