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


Save the Illinois River, Inc. | environment | February 02, 2024

Illinois River by Kim Baker 2
The Illinois River
Ed Brocksmith, STIR cofounder

That great ecological engine of Chesapeake Bay and our Illinois River watershed have much in common when it comes to pollution from production agriculture. For the bay, nitrogen is the primary culprit degrading water quality and safety. For us in Green Country, it’s phosphorous that makes the streambed slimy, smelly, and green.

For both the bay and our revered Oklahoma Scenic Rivers, the pollution is from enormous amounts of animal waste, primarily chicken manure. Lack of commitment on the parts of politicians, water quality regulators, and by those who are regulated also can be blamed.
Pollution abatement plans once mandated by the Clean Water Act are giving way to voluntary programs called Best Management Practices (BMPs). Millions of dollars are poured into the states for conservation projects such as planting trees and building fences to keep cattle out of the water.

“…EPA and bay states are reneging on the formal restoration plans and abandoning the 2025” deadline for meeting reductions in the key bay pollutants, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment,” said Gerald Winegrad, a veteran legislator from the Annapolis area. “This is after 40 years and billions spent on restoring the bay,” Winegrad wrote in the Capital Gazette.

You have to be an optimist to look at water quality data for the Illinois River and conclude there has been much improvement or that voluntary steps are working.  Phosphorous far exceeds Oklahoma’s protective limit at our border with Arkansas. Tons of phosphorous wind up in Lake Tenkiller yearly. The latest EPA assessment shows almost no improvement in river and stream nitrogen pollution causing the oxygen depleted Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

A federal judge has agreed with Oklahoma that Arkansas poultry companies have polluted the Illinois River watershed with phosphorous. He ordered the state and the companies to come to an agreement to mitigate the damage to the Illinois River watershed. That mediation is stalled and Big Chicken, Tyson, say the evidence in the 13-year-old lawsuit is too old now. Oklahoma's Attorney General Genter Drummond denies that, and the matter may end up back in court.

You might say the Illinois River is the scene of a murder, and the poultry industry is the killer, still free, no bail, still obstinate and full of dirty tricks. The industry has killed Oklahoma's most valuable and once pristine watershed and home of one-third of our designated state scenic rivers.

If Luminol could detect phosphorus throughout our watershed, the glow might be bright enough to see from space.
Does evidence in a murder case become too old to bring justice for the victims, to have your day in court? Did someone just think, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

House Bill 4118 has been introduced, allowing chicken farms to discharge waste into our rivers.  Present Department of Agriculture rules are already weak and are not working well.  This is one of many bills dealing with water to be considered when our legislature opens next week.  STIR is watching this closely.

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Save the Illinois River, Inc.
24369 East 757 Rd
Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464

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