THIS LEGISLATION HAS BEEN SIGNED INTO LAW BY THE GOVERNOR OF OKLAHOMA
SENATE TO VOTE ON WATER RULE
Bill Allows Cities and Industries to Continue Pollution ofStreams and Lakes
House Bill 3824 now goes to the State Senate after unanimous committee approval with no questions asked. Previously, it passed theHouse 95-0.
The bill, by Rep. CarlNewton of Cherokee and Sen. Darcy Jech of Kingfisher, authorizes the OklahomaDepartment of Environmental Quality to grant a "variance" to water quality rules protecting the Waters of Oklahoma including the Illinois Riverand Lake Tenkiller
"Designer"Bill for Cities
Presenting the bill to the Senate Energy Committee last week, it was stated that the bill was requested by the Department of EnvironmentalQuality (ODEQ) to "assist" towns that can't meet water quality rules.
Those close to HB 3824 say the bill is intended to help the City of Tahlequah which has a phosphorus limit of one-mg/l for its wastewater treatment facility. Tahlequah's permit has been in limbo for years, not being renewed by ODEQ.
Because Tahlequah Phosphorus limit is greater than Oklahoma's scenic rivers phosphorus limit of.037 mg/l, the U.S. EPA may not approve a variance for the city. It might be considered as "back sliding" by the EPA. However, variance is a tool in the EPA tool box.
Each year, thousands of kilograms of phosphorus flow into Lake Tenkiller from a watershed awash in the nutrient.* Sewage treatment plants, poultry farms, cattle ranches, and failing septic systems contribute phosphorus that degrades water clarity and safety.
A 2006 water quality study of Lake Tenkiller requested by the ODEQ found that 35-percent of phosphorus entering Tenkiller comes from point-sources such as wastewater treatment facilities. Quoting from the report:
Point source reductions are the key to meeting the 0.037 mg/l total phosphorus criterion. The model predicts that reductions in (chicken) litter application will have little effect upon the measured three month geometric means. This is not surprising since nonpoint sources generate loads which are very transient in nature.**
Non-point sources include storm runoff from farms, failed septic systems, and erosion of stream banks.
WhatSTIR Anticipates will happen on HB 3824
In view of the momentum of this legislation, the lack of historical knowledge at the Capitol about Oklahoma scenic rivers, and the lack of regard for protecting clean water, STIR believes this bill will be approved and signed by the Governor. How to incorporate HB 3824 into Oklahoma's water quality rules will then have to be determined. Questions such as how long a variance to pollution may exist are important considerations.
STIR members, especially those on Lake Tenkiller, must pay very close attention to the variance issues and prepare to defend the Illinois River in the near future.
If you are concerned about HB 3824, calling, and emailing your Oklahoma State Senatorcould possibly help. You may tell Senators that Oklahoma must not marginalize the quality of the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller by approvingHB 3824 in its present form. HB 3824 certainly makes it more difficult for STIR to meet its mission.
*73,518 kilograms 5-year rolling average. Annual report delivered to the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission. See: https://illinoisriver.org/images/uploads/20211016/compact-report-22-pages-oct-2021-91058.pdf
** Illinois River Upland and In-Stream Phosphorus Modeling FinalReport by Dr. Daniel E Storm, Mr. Michael J. White, and Dr. Michael d Smolen.