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

[Archived] Oklahoma's report on impaired waters

| Oklahoma Scenic Rivers | January 04, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma has 8,700 miles of rivers and 220,000 acres of lakes listed as "impaired," in a draft state report released Monday.

Pollution or other problems have damaged the lakes and rivers so that at least one of their possible beneficial uses is no longer possible, according to the 2004 draft report, the Integrated Water Quality Report.

The numbers are up from those found in a similar 2002 report.

"We don't believe more water is impaired than in 2002, but we have a lot more data than we did in 2002," said Monty Elder, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

The agency is sampling more water for more things, she said.

"The number is up, but we believe it is mainly due to the fact we have more data to look at," Elder said.

The number of river miles has increased since 2002, when the last study was done. In 2002, the state had 7,200 miles of impaired rivers.

The 2002 report listed 233,500 lake acres as impaired, she said.

However, the 2004 draft report is expected to be amended to include additional miles of rivers and acres of Oklahoma lakes, she said.

The additions will 
likely make the number of impaired acres of lake the same as the 2002 report, she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has to approve the list, she said, adding that it will likely ask the state agency to make a few changes.

The agency did not know how many total miles of river and acres of lakes the state had, she said.

"There are criteria set by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board that it (a water body) has to meet to be used for that beneficial use," Elder said.

The beneficial uses include swimming, fishing, wading, use for public or private water supplies, hydropower and agriculture, according to the report.

"It means the water quality is not good enough to support at least one of the things you should be able to use this water for," Elder said.

Several segments of popular Oklahoma rivers and lakes are listed as impaired for various reasons.

They include areas of: Arkan sas River; Haikey Creek; Skiatook Lake; Caney River; Hudson Lake; Verdigris River; Fort Gibson Lake; Oologah Lake; Lake of the Cherokees (Grand Lake); Tenkiller Ferry Lake; Illinois River; Wister Lake; Cimarron River; and Broken Bow Lake.

For Grand Lake, the beneficial use that is impaired is wildlife and fish propagation, she said.

"Wildlife and fish are not able to propagate to the level we think they should," Elder said. "It doesn't mean it does not happen at all, but it is impaired."

Deborah Wolek, the executive director of the Grand Lake Association, said: "I don't think Grand Lake should be given a black eye over these reports at all. It is saying there are some issues out there that need to be addressed. I still let my grandkids swim in the lake."

Elder said the agency doesn't rank the bodies of water that are most impaired.

However, the top three reasons for impaired rivers are bacteria, cloudiness and solids or things floating in the river that aren't supposed to be there, Elder said.

The top three reasons for impaired lakes are cloudiness, low oxygen and phosphorus, she said.

"We do not delineate the source of the phosphorus," she said.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson announced last week that he was pressing forward with a lawsuit against 14 poultry companies stemming from phosphorus in eastern Oklahoma watersheds. Edmondson believes that excess phosphorus from excess chicken litter spread as fertilizer runs off into Oklahoma rivers and lakes, creating algae blooms, choking aquatic life and creating taste and odor problems in drinking water.