OKLAHOMA CITY – Implementation of Oklahoma’s debated and studied phosphorus limit for scenic rivers apparently is now the goal to protect the Illinois River and other scenic streams and not a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution study. The key will be getting the cooperation of everyone in the watershed especially Arkansas said Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Michael Teague at a meeting Monday with clean river advocates. Secretary Teague and department directors met with members of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma (CCO) and the Sierra Club who urged Oklahoma to insist that EPA complete TMDL studies for the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake.
Last month, the EPA said Arkansas and Oklahoma should do the studies based on watershed modeling by EPA. A TMDL addresses the causes of water pollution and tells who must reduce pollution and by how much. You might consider it a pollution diet. TMDLs are required for impaired water bodies under the federal Clean Water Act. In a letter to Mr. Teague, the coalition said that if EPA won’t do the TMDLs then Oklahoma and Arkansas should do them. If Arkansas does not cooperate with Oklahoma on completing TMDLs, then Oklahoma should do TMDLs for the Oklahoma part of the watershed the coalition said. “It has been suggested that pollution of the Illinois River might be addressed by having just a watershed plan in lieu of TMDLs,” said Save the Illinois River (STIR) President Denise Deason-Toyne of Tahlequah. “We feel that TMDLs for the river and the Lake Tenkiller are the only answer to pollution from cities and farms even if it could result in a lawsuit,” said Deason- Toyne who added that the meeting was very cordial. “The states have struggled with this issue for more than 25 years with no meaningful resolution yet. That’s why our coalition believes strongly that EPA should finish the job, said Ron Suttles, CCO chairman. “Federal Clean Water Act TMDLs would be the best course,” Suttles added. “EPA’s directive that Arkansas and Oklahoma do the TMDLs appears to have come straight from EPA headquarters and not from the regional office in Dallas and I believe that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has let Oklahoma down,” said Mark Derichsweiler of the Sierra Club. “EPA Administrator Pruitt has not chosen what’s best for the waters of Oklahoma, especially for our scenic rivers and Tenkiller Lake,” he added.
Oklahoma and Arkansas have battled over water quality of the Illinois River for decades. A limit on the nutrient phosphorus adopted by Oklahoma in 2003 was never enforced because of studies and delays granted by Oklahoma at Arkansas’ request. A recent study by Baylor University paid for by Arkansas determined that the phosphorus limit is viable and can be defended scientifically. A wide range of other scenic river water quality issues were discussed at Monday’s meeting including the proliferation of poultry farms in northeastern Oklahoma, the increase in application of poultry manure in the watershed and permits for sewage treatment plants that have been on hold while the EPA prepared TMDL watershed models.
Groups included in the coalition include Save the Illinois River (STIR), Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy, The Sierra Club, Greater Tenkiller Area Association (GTAA) and Trout Unlimited, Tulsa Chapter. Agency directors at the meeting included Scott Thompson, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality: Julie Cunningham, Oklahoma Water Resources Board; Ed Fite, vice president of Grand River Dam Authority Scenic Rivers Operations and Deputy Secretary of Environment Carly Cordell.