Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Water QualityManagement Advisory Council meeting, Tuesday, July 26, 2022, Oklahoma City.
Statement of Save the Illinois River, Inc. (STIR),Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a 501(c)(3) not for profit citizen’s coalition formed in1984. Presented by Ed Brocksmith, STIRco-founder and STIR Secretary-Treasurer.
24369 E 757 Rd
Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464
STATEMENTON WATER QUALITY VARIANCE
Save the Illinois River, Inc., STIR, is a 501(c)(3) not forprofit coalition chartered in 1984 by Tahlequah, Oklahoma area citizens inresponse to a serious threat to the future of the Illinois River.
STIR’s mission is to protect and preserve the IllinoisRiver, its tributaries, and Lake Tenkiller. Also, to protect aquifers in the Illinois River watershed.
STIR objects to the concept of “variance” to Oklahoma water quality standards for Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. STIR intends to make public comments at every stage of the process of adopting emergency rules and permanent rules on variance.
STIR asks you to recommend to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality that variance for any purpose must not be permittedfor Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. Variance may be beneficial to the waters of Oklahoma in some cases but not for Oklahoma Scenic Rivers which include the Illinois River, Barren Fork Creek, Flint Creek, Little Lee Creek, Big Lee Creek, and the Mountain Fork River. Any variance to water quality rules forscenic rivers will send a devastating message to our neighboring state of Arkansas at a critical time when Oklahoma is attempting to work with Arkansas to meet Oklahoma Scenic River water quality standards.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act passed in the 1970’s states that scenic rivers are unique and must be protected. The act states:
The Oklahoma Legislature finds that certain free-flowing Streams and Rivers of Oklahoma possess such unique natural scenic beauty, water, fish, wildlife and outdoor recreational values of present and future benefit to the people of the state that is the policy of the Legislature to preserve these areas for the benefit of the people of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Scenic Rivers are granted special water quality protection in accordance with their beauty, uniqueness, and fragility. Among those special water quality protections is the instream, numeric limit for the nutrient phosphorus. That standard is 0.037 mg/l total phosphorus. Other protective waterquality rules apply to scenic rivers including designation of Outstanding Resource Waters, Nutrient-Sensitive Watershed designation, and importantly, an anti-degradation clause which means the state cannot backslide on water quality. Also unique is aesthetics as a beneficial use of scenic rivers.
No body of water in Oklahoma has been more contentious and more litigated than the Illinois River. Oklahoma and STIR sued EPA in the mid-1980’s over Illinois River water quality protection. In a precedent-setting ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, Under the federal Clean Water Act, upstream states must meet the water quality standards set by downstream states. Furthermore, Oklahoma sued the largest poultry corporations in Arkansas for polluting the IllinoisRiver watershed.
Lake Tenkiller impounds the Illinois River. It too has special water quality protection, and like the Illinois River, it too is stressed by nutrients and bacteria from point sources and from nonpoint sources. Oklahoma’s instream phosphorus limit of .037 mg/l is exceeded by nearly 85-percent at the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line by nearly 65-percent atTahlequah.*
Each year, according to the annual report to the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission, tons of phosphorus pour into Lake Tenkiller hastening the premature death for one of Oklahoma’s premier lakes (eutrophication).**
Recreation on the Illinois River and at Lake Tenkiller amounts to an expenditure of millions of dollars yearly. Visitors account for a large factor for the economy of Tahlequah.
This council will make a recommendation to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality on recent legislation that moves some regulations from the OWRB to ODEQ. These rules include variance to water quality standards, including standards set for Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. A variance might be sought for one or both cities that permitted to discharge treated sewage into the Illinois River. The present limit for Tahlequah and Westville is one-mg/l, well over the phosphorus limit of 0.037 mg/l for the Illinois River. The EPA, based on its attitude about two recent NPDES permits in Arkansas, might consider variance for scenic rivers to be backsliding.
Population growth in northwest Arkansas has been tremendous and the loading of phosphorus to the Illinois River is increasing. More people, more phosphorus, all while maintaining the same phosphorus limits. Since 1983, the population of northwest Arkansas has increased four-fold. The population is expected todouble by 2045-2050.
A variance to Oklahoma Scenic River water quality standards, especially for the instream phosphorus limit ,will send an enormously powerful and damaging signal to the State ofArkansas that could be used against Oklahoma and against the U.S. EPA in their attempts to meet Scenic River water quality standards. EPA has rejected two draft NPDES permits in Arkansas because they will not meet Oklahoma’s water quality limits. Arkansas is suing EPA in federal court.
In conclusion, Save the Illinois River is asking you, the ODEQ’s advisory council, to insulate Oklahoma Scenic Rivers from variance to water quality standards in any form.
These important, beautiful, unique, and valuable water resources are impaired by nutrients, including legacy phosphorus, by bacteria,and by sedimentation caused by streambank erosion. They cannot take any more pollution, for anyr eason, for any length of time, for any frequency the state might allow by variance.
*Five-year rolling average 2016-2020, .060 mg/l total phosphorus at Tahlequah.
.068 mg/l total phosphorus at Watts, Oklahoma 2016-2020.
**73,518 kg phosphorus 2016=2020 at Tahlequah.
53,096 kg phosphorus 2016-2020 at Watts,Oklahoma