A commentary in the Tulsa World that seems to describe the poultry litter issue very well in our opinion.
Poultry's duty as good neighbor
By RUSSELL RAY World Staff Writer 10/16/2005
I have two beautiful maple trees in my front yard and soon those trees will be shedding their leaves.
A lot of those leaves will fall on my neighbor's front yard. Wanting to be a good neighbor, I'll rake those
leaves from my neighbor's property.
After all, they're my leaves. Why should my neighbor clean up the mess from my trees?
I could avoid the responsibility and claim the leaves flew in from the house down the street or a nearby
neighborhood. But it's pretty obvious where the bulk of those leaves come from.
Blaming somebody else would be blatantly dishonest.
That's exactly what Arkansas' poultry industry has done in shirking
its responsibility to clean up the Illinois River watershed. Oklahoma
Attorney General Drew Edmondson has rightfully slapped a lawsuit
against 14 northwest Arkansas poultry companies, claiming poultry is
the chief source of pollution in the watershed.
There was a time when Lake Tenkiller was billed as the state's
deepest clear-water lake. A scuba diver once told me the water was so
pure and clear that visibility reached 45 to 50 feet.
Tenkiller isn't clear anymore. Neither is the Illinois River, the
scenic river that flows into Tenkiller.
They are choked with chicken manure from the hundreds of chicken
houses in northwest Arkansas, home to the nation's largest poultry
producers, including Tyson Foods Inc., the No. 1 producer of poultry.
At any given time, there are about 35 million broiler chickens in
northwest Arkansas' Benton and Washington Counties. The birds produce
about 240,000 tons of waste each year.
For years, the manure has been applied to pastures as fertilizer.
That's the problem.
The land in northwest Arkansas is vastly overloaded with chicken
manure. Every day, the excess waste slithers into tributaries that
feed into the lakes and streams of eastern Oklahoma.
The phosphorus from the waste saps oxygen from the water and can kill
fish and other aquatic life. It turns the water green and causes it
to smell and taste bad.
This is unacceptable because the Illinois River watershed provides
drinking water for nearly two dozen eastern Oklahoma communities,
including the city of Tahlequah. Those communities are bearing the
rising cost of treating the water.
The poultry business is a valued industry in Oklahoma. I wish the
companies and their contract growers nothing but good fortune.
But without a clean, reliable source of water, the future of economic
development in eastern Oklahoma is dead.
The poultry companies say they're not responsible for the disposal of
chicken waste. They own the bird, not the manure, the companies argue.
What's more, the industry is trying to avoid responsibility by
blaming marinas, resorts, recreational parks, nurseries and real
estate developments for the pollution in eastern Oklahoma's lakes and
rivers. While those operations are a source of pollution, it's pretty
clear that poultry is by far the biggest source of pollution in the
No sensible judge or jury would stand for such insidious cockamamie.
Edmondson has a good case, although there is no guarantee he'll win.
Poultry is a $2-billion-a-year business in Arkansas. It has a large
war chest and has shown it's willing to employ shady tactics to win
Oklahoma and Arkansas have been wrangling over this issue for years.
The poultry industry could have resolved the issue long ago by
spending the money to transport the litter outside the watershed.
I caught my first fish and skipped my first rock on Lake Tenkiller.
As a college student in Tahlequah, I spent a fair amount of time
paddling down the Illinois.
I remember what the water used to look like. It can be that way again.
Russell Ray 581-8380