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

[Archived] Poultry's duty as good neighbor

| News | October 16, 2005

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 
this battle.

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