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| News | January 03, 2015

Sneaky way to test the water

Arkansas Democrat Gazette Editorial
HEY, who set up those water monitors in Northwest Arkansas? It took a while to find out. The sneaky way of inspecting water in Arkansas comes from a neighbor to the west, specifically from the attorney general of Oklahoma, Drew Edmondson.

   General Edmondson’s is a familiar name on this side of the state line. He’s the hard case who’s determined to sue Arkansas over phosphorous levels in several notso-Natural-State waterways that flow into Oklahoma. As another way to help make his case, he’s hired an environmental consulting firm and a geochemistry professor from the University of Tulsa to do some checking by using the monitors.

   Workers for Washington County were the first to come across the monitors. (Oklahoma now admits having eight set up, six in Washington County and two in Benton County.) When the monitors were found, two were on county rights-of-way. A third was on private property. The owner said she’d never given anybody permission to set up the equipment on her land.

   Jerry Hunton, the Washington County judge, wasn’t asked for permission, either. Naturally, he was miffed. This is no way to do business, even if the parties are close to going to court. If this kind of trespassing isn’t illegal, it’s certainly unethical. Scientists who set up testing equipment on public or private property generally inform the property owners about what they’re doing. If nothing else, it’s just good manners.

   Arkansas has a responsibility to clean up those streams if their phosphorous levels are too high. It’s not neighborly to dump your trash into the neighbor’s water. The responsibility remains, even if fixing the problem causes economic hardship. Poultry farmers could suffer the most, since runoff from their poultry houses are being blamed for the phosphorous levels in the water. But this is a question of doing the right thing. Uncomfortable as it may be, Arkansas needs to stick to the do-right rule.

   But so does Oklahoma. There’s no need to sneak around with these water tests. The phosphorous levels are contentious. But that doesn’t mean all sides can’t remain civil. Solving the phosphorous problem will be easier if the sides are cooperating, not tiptoeing back and forth over the state line, playing a game of Gotcha!