Borrow Pits ( Bar Pits) of the Arkansas River

What is a Borrow pit, also known as "Bar Pits"?

Great care was given to the creation and implementation of borrow area and berm design. Traditional borrow areas are located on the riverside of the levee immediately adjacent to the construction.
In the past, borrow areas were rectangular shaped pits near the levee that held water.

Today, the Corps of Engineers, working with the Levee Board and the landowner, often design two types of borrow areas:

Aquatic Borrow Areas.

This borrow area is irregularly shaped with smooth side slopes, varying depth sand islands with trees left undisturbed in the middle. This type design promotes fisheries and waterfowl benefits.

Reforested Borrow Areas.

This borrow area is graded to drain and is planted in trees restoring bottomland hardwoods and terrestrial wildlife habitat.

Levee Seepage Berms: (a thick blanket of dirt)

Berms are located adjacent to the landside slope of the levee to prevent seep water coming under the levee from exiting until the hydraulic pressure of water passing through the sand layers is reduced. If seep water is allowed to exit the ground with high velocities, dirt will be displaced, causing cavities and voids to form under the levee, which can cause a levee failure (crevasse). Seepage berms are very wide, thus requiring a tremendous amount of borrow material. To reduce the amount of borrow and to minimize impact on surrounding land and habitat, the Corps of Engineers has developed several innovative "avoid & minimize" design techniques. These designs help avoid and minimize damage to the environment (trees, wildlife and right-of-way acquisitions).

Levee Relief Wells:

Where conditions exist, such as limited landside right-of-way (r.o.w.) or lack of borrow area, the Corps will evaluate the installation of relief wells instead of constructing berms. Relief wells allow for the orderly discharge of seep water through a controlled mechanism without the displacement of dirt from under the levee. Relief wells are installed adjacent to the landside toe of the levee, there by reducing r.o.w. acquisitions required by traditional berms, as well as the borrow areas required for the material.

Levee Dredged Berms:

In areas with existing berms built from suitable material and with the Mississippi River being close enough to provide an economical source of sand, the Corps is digging up the existing berm sand using the material to raise the levee. Dikes are then constructed around the limits of the berms to retain the water, while sand from the Mississippi River is pumped in using a hydraulic dredge. Once the sand is up to grade, the dike material is used to cover the sand berm to provide suit-able material to grow the grass cover. Levee enlargements u t i l i z i n g traditional borrows cost between $1 million and $2 million per mile while the environmentally friendly dredge jobs cost about $3 million per mile. Based upon current funding levels, the Levee Enlargement Project is not scheduled for completion until 2031.

Relief Wells Dredge in MS River Levees were built as early as 1800 to divert small overflows. As levee building began to be competitive with each landowner trying to divert water to the next landowner. In 1874, Congress began a study to reclaim lands in the Mississippi River Valley. Floods of 1882 severely tested the new Mississippi River Commission. Floods of 1883 and 1884 broke through levees and each year flood levels gauged higher than before, through to 1892. After 1882, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became chiefly responsible for developing a uniform and cohesive levee system. As more levees were built, the water level rose as greater volumes of water were contained. In 1903, breaks in the levees caused widespread devastation. The Corps also had to be concerned about the city of Pine Bluff, where floods scoured away the bluffs on which the town was built. 1912 and 1913 brought major floods again. Convict labor reinforced weakened levees in 1913. The great flood of 1927 took 78 lives in Arkansas and ruined crops, caused great sicknesses and contaminated water. Out of it grew the Flood Control Act of 1928, which committed the federal government to a definite program of flood control. This legislation authorized the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) Project, the nation's first comprehensive flood control and navigation act. The massive levee construction continued making the St. Francis levee district the largest in the world. In 1937, a "superflood" occurred. Eight million sandbags were brought in to shore up levees. This flood caused President Franklin Roosevelt to concentrate flood control along the St. Francis and White Rivers that included dams and pumping plants. In 1973 another major flood occurred that caused almost $200 million in damages, $37 million in the Arkansas Delta alone.

The Mississippi River and Tributaries Project
Act 138 of 1859; this act created the first publicly financed levees

The Below Died in Committee

State of Arkansas - 83rd General Assembly- HR 1042
Regular Session, 2001 - By: Representative Lindbergh Thomas - Grady, Arkansas
HOUSE RESOLUTION - 1042 - Died in Committee


WHEREAS, fishing is a sport enjoyed nationally and locally for its mental, physical and nutritional benefits; and WHEREAS, many Arkansas residents, particularly those who reside in the area between Pine Bluff and Pendelton, are not allowed to fish on the banks of the Arkansas river and its “borrow pits”; and WHEREAS, some Arkansans depend on fishing to supplement their families nutritional needs; and WHEREAS, many of these same Arkansans are denied permits by people leasing lands on the river and are thereby denied equal access to the river; and WHEREAS, residents in other parts of Arkansas are not immune to the same unequal access; and  WHEREAS, the Arkansas River is not a privately owned river for the benefit of a few,


That a study is requested to be made by the Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission to determine:

Why residents are denied fishing privileges on the banks and the barrow pits of the Arkansas River from Pine Bluff to Pendelton, Arkansas as well as other areas; the legality of that denial under Arkansas law and the rules and regulations of the Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission present the results of that study to the members of the Arkansas General Assembly no later that December 2001; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is requested to formulate a plan to ensure that all residents be provided equal opportunity to enjoy the natural resource of Arkansas fish.

A Borrow pit / Bar pit is a term used in construction and civil engineering. It describes an area where material (usually soil, gravel or sand) has been dug for use at another location. Borrow pits can be found all along the Arkansas river where dirt to construct the Levees were dug.

The borrow pits may become filled with ground water or replenished by high water from the river, forming recreational areas or sustainable wildlife habitats. Since the river levees were constructed the Pits have been used as recreation and fishing by the public.


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