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

EPA Studies of River and Lake Released

| Environment | April 28, 2018

STIR Editor's Note:  Five years ago, the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency said it would seek the cooperation of Arkansas and Oklahoma in an effort to develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake.  On April 17, the EPA Region 6 in Dallas, Texas released a statement saying TMDL models had been completed and would be released to the states. You might think of a TMDL as a "pollution diet" for streams and lakes.

TMDLs are required by the federal Clean Water Act for waters listed by the states as impaired.  The Illinois River is listed by Oklahoma as impaired by nutrients (phosphorous), bacteria and sedimentation. It appears that the EPA will leave development of TMDLs for the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake up to the states which have failed to act for decades.  Will this lead to years of further studies, meetings, and delays of enforcing Oklahoma's water quality standards, namely our phosphorus limit for scenic rivers?   STIR hopes not.

The following article in the Muskogee Phoenix was written by D.E. Smoot who has followed the situation closely.


April 21, 2018

Proponents of clean water skeptical of models 

By D.E. Smoot 

Clean-water advocates expressed cautious optimism about the release of models designed to limit pollutants that flow into the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake. TheU.S. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released what it described as"science-based water quality models" to its "partnering agencies" in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The models, which simulate conditions within the watershed and the lake, establish total maximum daily loads for pollutants that impair the scenic river and downstream reservoir. 

The EPA initiated the TMDL project in 2009 and published models in September 2015,but opposition from political and business interests delayed adoption and implementation. The models have been undergoing a review and revision process during the nearly four years that have passed since. EPA Regional Administrator Anne Idsal, in a news release, described the models as"great examples of how cooperative federalism works." Idsal said EPAduring the years has "made great progress by working with states, tribes and local agencies'' to improve "conditions through the watershed."  Erin Hatfield, communications director for the Oklahoma Department of EnvironmentalQuality, said EPA officials will meet during the coming weeks with partneragencies here to determine what the "next steps' ' will be. She saidODEQ, the agency that regulates point source pollution, will begin developing a process and timeline for implementation of the models once those meetings take place.

ATMDL is a calculation that establishes a maximum amount for a pollutant that enters a body of water to ensure water quality standards are met for the pollutant identified. A TMDL also sets targets for reducing the pollutant andallocates load reductions among its various sources. 

TheClean Water Act requires states to develop TMDLs for all bodies of water that have been identified as impaired. DEQ records show three of four segments of the Illinois River that stretch from Arkansas to Tenkiller Lake were listed as impaired in 2002 — the fourth was listed for the first time in 2006 — with phosphorus loading being a primary concern.   

Oklahoma Adopted a numerical standard for phosphorus in 2003 to address the degradation of water quality that had occurred within the Illinois River watershed and other scenic rivers. Overloading of nutrients such as phosphorus promotes vegetative growth, which subsequently decays, depletes dissolved oxygen levels,kills aquatic life, and reduces water quality.

An Agreement struck in 2003 by Arkansas and Oklahoma officials delayed enforcement of the phosphorus standard for 10 years and required an extensive review of the standard before full implementation. A second agreement struck in 2013 produced a two-year study within the basin that produced a recommendation inDecember 2016 to reduce the 0.037 mg/L standard 0.035 mg/L and slightly different ways to assess that measurement.

DeniseDeason-Toyne, president of Save the Illinois River, was among many who expressed frustration with delays during that time with the development of theTMDL models. Those delays were pushed by political and business interests with a history of opposing enforcement of water quality standards for the state's scenic rivers. Deason-Toynesaid she is glad EPA has "come up with a model." But until the models are made available for review and analysis she will "remain cautiously optimistic about this development." "I'm glad the EPA finally worked its way through the science to get to this point, but until we see what the models actually are ... it will be hard to say whether this will have the impact we need to see in the watershed,"Deason-Toyne said. "Hopefully it will be positive and we will see Oklahoma And Arkansas start working together for the benefit of all the stakeholders."

ShanonPhillips, director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's water quality division, said she has yet to see the full model, but she and others at the agency that regulates nonpoint source pollution "have been confident with the watershed model as it functions independently." She said questions could arise about the way the lake model and the watershed model work together,but that remains to be seen.  "Many Of us have been waiting for more than 20 years for a model for the IllinoisRiver Watershed that would help guide water quality improvement in the watershed, and we are hopeful that these models will allow for that," Phillips Said. "Regardless of the utility of the models, we’re going to keep working with partners, including landowners, conservation districts, theNatural Resources Conservation Service, the Grand River Dam Authority and others to protect the river and Lake Tenkiller."

Phillips Said meetings are planned this week with representatives from EPA and agencies from both Arkansas and Oklahoma.