Save the Illinois River, Inc.
24369 E 757 Rd.
Tahlequah, OK 74464-1949
(918) 284-9440

[Archived] River phosphorus level high

| Environment | January 24, 2018

A federal agency's sampling on the Illinois River shows cause for 

concern, an advocate says.
By ROD WALTON World Staff Writer

A federal agency's sampling on the Illinois River shows cause for
concern, an advocate says.
TAHLEQUAH -- High samples of phosphorus found when a federal agency sampled the Illinois River and its tributaries during flooding last month may give state officials reason to reconsider a proposal to remove the waterway from Oklahoma's endangered streams list, an advocate said Wednesday.

A June study by the U.S. Geological Survey found "alarming" amounts of phosphorus flowing down the Illinois, Flint Creek and Barren Fork during mid- to late June, Ed Brocksmith said. Brocksmith is a member of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.

Brocksmith has been concerned because members of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and Water Resources Board propose removing segments of the three streams from the state's 303(d) list.

That list, which may be finalized this summer, is supposed to establish daily maximum pollution loads for the endangered waterways.

"I hope the water resources board will look at this report," Brocksmith said. "They need to take this into consideration before they go ahead with plans to de-list the Illinois River and the other streams."

According to the USGS report, total phosphorus concentrations found June 21 on Flint Creek were the highest measured since monitoring began in 1975. However, that data is somewhat skewed because the tests were taken when the waterways were out of their banks, according to the report.

"These values, much larger than historical data, do not necessarily
represent dramatically worsening conditions," USGS district chief Kathy D. Peter wrote.

On Tuesday she acknowledged the phosphorus as being "pretty high." The phosphorus -- which can be a product of waste from nearby poultry farms -- measured out at 1.7 milligrams per liter that day, far exceeding the federal EPA guideline of 0.05 milligrams-per-liter for water flowing into lakes.

No other agency was doing water-quality sampling during the flood stage, Peter added. Thus, the geological survey's efforts may give the state a more complete picture of the streams' conditions.

"If you only sample at low flows, you get a very misguided perception of the river," Peter said. "We're shooting in the dark if we don't have data from all conditions."

In addition, the total load of phosphorus in the Illinois River and Barren Fork exceeded 70 and 99 tons per day, respectively. Those figures should be less than a ton per day when the water is at low flow, Peter said.
Although Peter said whether the Illinois or its tributaries make the
endangered list is not a call made by her federal agency, the USGS report may have some impact.

"It enters into those decisions," she said. "They have to consider what are the true water-quality issues."

Attempts to contact Derek Smithee, water-quality expert for the water resources board, were unsuccessful.

Bacterial levels on the waterways were high during flood stage, Peter wrote, but appeared to be even or better than state standards at low flow.

"Bacteria is part of the natural system" of a river, she said.
Brocksmith said visitors should not be discouraged from floating the
Illinois. The federal sampling, however, showed that Illinois, Flint Creek or Barren Fork needed state protections, he said.

Rod Walton, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8457 or via e-mail