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[Archived] River Compact Commission Meeting

| News | January 05, 2013

"It’s clear that there’s receptivity in Congress to the states’ getting along rather than fighting," said Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Miles Tolbert..."Arkansas Democrat-Gazette" 

States seek $20 million for rivers



   SALLISAW, Okla. — Members of a two-state commission spoke on friendly terms Thursday, agreeing that it will take $20 million from the federal government over the next five years to protect rivers that flow from Arkansas into Oklahoma.

   U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, ROkla., holds the key to obtaining that federal money, members of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission said.

   "We’re not asking them to fund the fight between two states," said Richard Seybolt, the federal chairman of the compact commission. "We’re asking them to fund an agreement.

   "The feds have got the money. All we’ve got to do is get it away from them."

   Inhofe has used his position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to help obtain millions of federal dollars for other environmental projects in Oklahoma, including Tar Creek, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in the state’s northeast corner polluted by decades of zinc and lead mining.

   "It’s clear that there’s receptivity in Congress to the states’ getting along rather than fighting," said Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Miles Tolbert.

   Randy Young, director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, said there’s wide support for the funding among Arkansas and Oklahoma congressional members but Inhofe is the key.

   Young and Duane Smith, director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, traveled to Washington on July 21 to promote their $20 million request from Congress.

   "I’m betting on Inhofe," Young said after Thursday’s meeting. "He’s in position to do it."

   The bickering between Oklahoma and Arkansas over water quality started two decades ago, and it’s flared up in recent years.

   Oklahoma blames Northwest Arkansas cities, farmers and poultry companies for environmental damage caused by phosphorus. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson last month gave notice to Arkansasbased poultry companies that he planned to sue them in federal court for the damage he said has been caused by phosphorus contained in poultry litter.

   Phosphorus, a nutrient that’s also found in sewer plant discharges and commercial fertilizers, causes degradation in streams if it reaches high levels. It can destroy aquatic habitat and kill fish.

   The degradation of streams is why Oklahoma in 2002 adopted a strict numeric limit on how much phosphorus can flow in six scenic rivers. Four of those streams, including the Illinois River that drains large sections of Benton and Washington counties, start their flow westward from Arkansas.

   Arkansas officials, including Gov. Mike Huckabee, have described Oklahoma’s goal of 0.037 milligrams of phosphorus per liter of water as unattainable, but officials have kept talking about what the two states can do to improve the rivers.

   Representatives of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA met last May to hash out how best to monitor the Illinois River and the other streams.

   Their agreement was to establish 13 core water-sampling sites to check for such things as phosphorus, nitrogen, dissolved oxygen and water clarity.

   That sampling over five years will cost $9.3 million, said Derek Smithee, water quality chief for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

  Smithee said it will take an additional $10 million in federal money to implement water-quality improvements. Among such efforts might be training golf course greenskeepers to use phosphorus-free fertilizers, paying to remove poultry litter from watersheds or establishing riparian setback zones along rivers, Smithee said.

   It will be months before the two states know whether their $20 million request is funded, said Patrick Creamer, a spokesman for Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark. Requests come in each spring, but funding is not resolved until late fall, Creamer said.

   "Most of the time, you don’t get the full amount you ask for," Creamer said. "You get some of it."