Oklahoma's Illinois River. Kimberly Baker photo
Quietly and after years of haggling with Arkansas over phosphorus pollution, the EPA approved the 2016 Arkansas 303(d) list of impaired waters, allowing Arkansas to evade TMDLs for two tributaries of the Illinois River. One of those streams is Osage Creek where a large sewage treatment plant serving several northwestern Arkansas cities is located. The other stream, Spring Creek, receives huge volumes of treated sewage from Rogers, Arkansas.
STIR has lodged a protest with EPA Region 6 in Dallas, TX calling the EPA action “unusual” and “likely illegal”. We have asked EPA to reevaluate its action. Was this action by Region 6 a favor to Arkansas from Scott Pruitt’s EPA? Some water quality regulators in Oklahoma have long felt EPA Region 6 was partial to Arkansas. Not only has EPA allowed Arkansas to evade TMDLs for these water bodies, EPA refused to do TMDLs for the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake instead kicking the task back to Arkansas and Oklahoma which have neglected to perform TMDLs for decades. In short, it appears that EPA has shafted Oklahoma twice, three times if you consider EPA’s approval of Fayetteville’s sewage treatment plant discharging to the Illinois River back in the 1980’s. That led to a U.S. Supreme Court fight that Oklahoma lost and also won. Won, because the court said Arkansas had to meet Oklahoma’s water quality standards at the state line. Has Arkansas done that? No.
At the request of STIR and other conservation groups, Oklahoma is taking steps to implement the critical phosphorus limit for the Illinois River. An agreement with Arkansas is being negotiated but is behind the targeted completion date of July 1, 2018. We are told that perhaps there will be an announcement next week from the Secretary of Energy and Environment’s office. The agreement being sought does not include TMDLs that are required by the federal Clean Water Act. The agreement is apparently a mere watershed management plan the states will agree to. Yes, another agreement. Yes, another delay in TMDLs telling polluters how much to reduce their pollution. Yes, more years of polluted Oklahoma Scenic Rivers.
This sounds a whole lot like what Oklahoma and Arkansas Congressmen as well as Tyson poultry company wanted in letters to EPA.