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

Dates and Events for Illinois River Protection by Ed Fite, GRDA

Illinois River Facts

Major actions related to Oklahoma Scenic Rivers

By Ed Fite, OklahomaScenic Rivers Commission


February 26, 2010 (updated Nov. 2018 by Save the Illinois River, Inc., STIR)

The Illinois River was named for the Illinois, at one time an extensive Algonquin tribe. The name was undoubtedly introduced to the region by the Osage Indians, traditional allies of the Illinois Indian Tribe… George F. Shrirk


The early French Traders and trappers probably named the Illinois River after the river of that same name in Illinois… T.L. Ballenger


The Illinois River is named for the Illinois Indian Tribe… Brad Agnew


The one individual for whom I credit as the major inspiration for protection and preservation of Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Is the late David R. Strickland… 

David Strickland probably loved the Illinois River most of all the rivers he fought to protect. He gave it more of his time and attention. At the moment of his death in an automobile accident, he was on an errand for Illinois. David was propelled by one burning determination: to preserve a parcel of the natural world for coming generations. He went to meetings, gave speeches, dispatched mass mailings, and talked with people. He pursued his cause with great intensity; not everyone liked what he did, but everyone had to stop and think about a river’s problems…He paid for most of his work from his own pocket. There were honors (in 1970 he was our Nation’s Conservationist of the Year) but no money rewards. David’sdream was for the Illinois River to remain unharmed for people’s enjoyment… David loved rivers and fought hard to protect them… for people. Kenneth L. Smith


David was President of The Scenic Rivers Association of Oklahoma 1969-1976.And, Ed Brocksmith has been active 1983-2011, serving as STIR President andTreasurer and OSRC Chairman.


History of Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act


In 1968, Congress enacted the NationalWild and Scenic Rivers Act (NWSRA), Public Law 90-542. 


At the time the NWSRA was considered, there were little to no federal protections for rivers (or water in general) within theseUnited States.The NWSRA predated the Clean Water Act of 1972.


In Public Law 90-542, Congress Affirmed: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments,possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. TheCongress declares that the established national policy of dam and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States Needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.”


 P.L.90-542 included eight (8) rivers that were “instantly” designated as components of the NWSRA along w/listing twenty-seven (27) other rivers marked for study to determine their potential for addition to the NWSRA system of named/protectedrivers (Total 35 Rivers). The Illinois River And tributaries were not named on that list at the time, yet their possibility was discussed. What is interesting is that our United States has in excess of 10,000 rivers with these stream reaches totaling in excess of 3.5 million miles of rivers.


One of the tools used by Congress to achieve the purposes of the NWSRA was using eminent domain to condemn to the tune not to exceed 100 acres per running mile of river to create protection zones on each side of those rivers federally designated. People along the river feared governmental controls; they were concerned homes, farms and businesses would come under restrictions.


When that one particular tool became public knowledge, there were approximately thirty (30) states that go about the business of passing some type of local/state-level wild and scenic rivers protection acts in hopes of diverting any possible use of the NWSRA in their respective states. Oklahoma Was one of those states. 


From 1968 until 1970, Oklahoma struggled with various attempts to establish some protection strategy for its rivers. In 1970, the OklahomaLegislature responded with enactment of House Bill #1152, the Oklahoma ScenicRivers Act of 1970. That Act named four (4) Oklahoma rivers that were placed into our state’s scenic river system: (1) the Flint Creek and Illinois River Above the 650-foot elevation level of Tenkiller Reservoir in Cherokee, Adair And Delaware Counties; (2) the Barren Fork Creek in Adair and Cherokee Counties From the present alignment of U.S. Highway 59 West to the Illinois River; and,the Upper Mountain Fork River above the 600-foot elevation of Broken BowReservoir in McCurtain and LeFlore Counties. 


The original Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act Of 1970 was vague and lacked acquisition or management authority to any state agency.     


In 1974, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act was amended by House Bill #1639 added an additional river: Big Lee’s Creek,sometimes referred to as the Big Lee Creek,located in Sequoyah County.


In January 1975, Congress enactedPublic Law 93-621 amending the NWSRA to include an additional twenty-nine (29)rivers to be studied for inclusion. This time around the Illinois River and its two tributaries (Flint Creek and Barren Fork Creek)were included. Out of 10,000 rivers in the United States, the Illinois River was in the top 64???? Wow…


Later in 1975, a public information meeting to announce initiation of the Illinois River Study was held in Tahlequah. Local Reaction to the proposed study and inclusion to NWSRA was totally negative(long story there for another time). Yet, environmental interests continued to press for inclusion of the Illinois River as a component of the NWSRA. They felt government controls were needed to protect water quality and aesthetics throughout the river basin. Throughout the next year and a half tensions were high…


In 1977, two (2) pieces of legislation were enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature: the first happened at the very beginning of the session. House Bill #1015 (meaning some strong political horsepower was used) was enacted to add Little Lee’s Creek, sometimes referred to as Little Lee Creek, located in Adair and Sequoyah Counties, beginning approximately four (4) miles east-southeast of Stilwell, Oklahoma, extending downstream to its confluence with the Big Lee’s Creek as Oklahoma’s sixth (6th)designated scenic river area; and, to avert local tensions, Senator Herb Rozelland Representative James Townsend introduced Senate Bill # 285 to further amend the OSRA to create the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and assign management of theIllinois River Basin as a means to show Oklahoma’s commitment to offset NWSRA. 


At the time of enactment (April 24,1977) David Boren was Oklahoma’sGovernor and Representative Bill Willis was Speaker of the Oklahoma House ofRepresentatives.


To say the least, enactment of SenateBill #285 didn’t avert the unrest…


From its inception the OSRC has been mired in turmoil…


The first Administrator was CarlCummings. He took the brunt of the lightning strikes in implementation of its functions (and with little to no revenue). Carl lasted about two (2) years on the job before his departure.


The second Administrator appointed wasRalph Campbell. He lasted about two years before he resigned.


The third Administrator was JohnShannon. He conducted a carrying capacity study for limitation of commercial floating. He, too, only lasted two years in the position. He 

went on to obtain a law degree and has served for years as Executive Director for the Arkansas Forestry Commission.


1974 - Scenic Rivers Association of Oklahoma and the IllinoisRiver Conservation Council obtained a court injunction to prevent further development of the Flint Ridge subdivision. An appeals court upheld the injunction,but in 1976 the U.S. The Supreme Court ruled the development of Flint Ridge could proceed.  


1981 – Commercial Float Operations sued the OSRC related to fees imposed. That lawsuit was eventually settled.


1981 – Northeastern State University Convenes Illinois River Symposium which results in white paper published containing recommendations and calling the present Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission “a dismal failure…”;


1984 – Save the Illinois River (STIR),Inc is chartered to provide a public voice for preservation and protection of the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller. FormerCongressman Ed Edmondson agrees to sign on as “pro bono'' legal counsel;


1985 – There was controversy related toTahlequah Public Works Authority (TPWA) wanting to expand and increase its wastewater treatment plant. House Bill # 4 was introduced by RepresentativeBill Willis to de-designate a portion of the Illinois River as a scenic river. The matter was resolved when TPWA agreed to build a new wastewater treatment plant utilizing construction grant funds provided from the state/USEPA for advanced treatment processes and retention storage basins;


1984-1990 – Administrative and CourtAction related to Lake Frances Dam. That action was elated when flood waters caused the dam to fail in May 1990;


1984-1992 – Administrative Appeal andCourt Action leading all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court related to City of Fayetteville, Arkansas Plans to discharge treated wastewater into the Illinois River Basin.In that case, the Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma’sWater Quality Standards can be applied to Arkansas By USEPA, yet only at OK-AR state line and that Fayetteville could discharge into the basin. (Note: USEPA sided with Arkansas at the administrative level, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals-Denver ruled unanimously in favor of Oklahoma against July 1990 w/o stay imposed and that decision was appealed to US Supreme Court by USEPA/Arkansas w/arguments inDecember 1991 and ruling February 26, 1992);


1997 – Governor Frank Keating appoints animal waste and water quality protection task force. The task force evaluate poultry waste issues and recommends strategies leading to enactment of legislation to control wastes;


1997 – OSRC influencesArkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission to adopt 40% reduction target for phosphorus levels in the Illinois River Basin;  


2000-2001 – OSRC leads state’s efforts to develop and implement scenic rivers 0.037 mg/L phosphorus water quality standards through Oklahoma Water Resources Board. OSRC Administrator actually recommended 0.02mg/L phosphorus standard; 


1999-2003 – OSRC, in coordination withOffice of the Oklahoma Secretary of Environment and other state agencies, negotiate with northwest Arkansas cities to commit to design and construction of $300+million in upgrades to waste water treatment plants (WWTP) and sewage collection systems located w/i Illinois River Basin. That work resulted in consummation ofArkansas-OklahomaPrinciples of Agreement Document of 2003 where the two states committed to work together in overall reduction of point and nonpoint sources of pollutants w/i the river basin;


2005 – Oklahoma Attorney General files lawsuit against the 14 poultry companies/subsidiaries with operation w/I the Illinois River Basin; and,


There has been a number of other actions related unauthorized dredge/fill operations over the years that have resulted insignificant fines levied (court action against Carl George @Sparrow Hawk Camp To remove an unauthorized dam, LD Stephens @War Eagle Recreation for clearing wetland, Hoby Ferrell for the same, Fishkill caused by tailwaters fromMidwestern Nursery, Fishkill from discharge from waste lagoon at Ozark EggFarm, etc).


***OSRA/OSRS Legislation during Ed Fite Tenure***


1984 – House Bill #1631 - Removed those commissioner members appointed by Adair, Cherokee and Delaware CountyCommissioners and reassigned one appointment each to Governor, President ofSenate and Speaker of the House of Representatives;


1985 – House Bill #1069 – Oklahoma SunsetLaw re-creating the OSRC to continue until July 1, 1991;


1987 – Senate Bill #69 - Modified OSRCpowers related to fees/commercial flotation devices;


1988 – House Bill #1895 - Introduced to remove all waste water from the Illinois River By January 1, 2000. Legislation failed to be enacted;


1989 – Senate Bill #390 - Modified Certain OSRC powers and responsibilities;


1989 – Senate Bill #318 - Exempted Commercial flotation device operations (CFDO) from requirement to be licensed by Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC);


1990 – Senate Bill #129 - Further Exemptions for OTC registration of CFDO;


1990 – Senate Bill #880 - Adds those portions of the Barren Fork Creek located w/i Cherokee County to OSRCjurisdiction;


1991 – House Bill #1110 – Oklahoma SunsetLaw re-creating the OSRC to continue until July 1, 1997;


1993 – Senate Bill #210 - Authorized Assessment of late payment fees on CFDO remitting user fees late and authorizedOSRC Administrator as peace officer;


1995 – Senate Bill #307 – Legislationto designate certain portions of the CimarronRiver as Oklahoma Scenic River. Legislation failed to be enacted;


1996 – Senate Bill #876 – Language Clean up bill of OSRA. Vetoed by Governor Frank Keating;


1997 – Senate Bill #30 – OklahomaSunset Law re-creating the OSRC to continue until July 1, 2003 and associated language clean up bill of Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act;


1999 – Senate Bill #239 – Introduced to abolish the OSRC. Legislation failed to be enacted;


2001 – House Bill #1274 – Amended OSRCElection Procedures;


2001 – Senate Bill #748 – Modified OSRCpowers, OSRC Administrator is appointing authority for law enforcement officers and no longer a division of OTRD;


2001 – Senate Bill #446 – Increased$1.00 User Fee to $2.00 on rafts, authorized camping fees and charges collection period from seasonal to annually;


2002 - Senate Bill #972 – Requires State agencies to provide annual report to state legislature on status of scenic rivers and protects TPWA from requirement to upgrade WWTP until all communities located in the IRB meet or exceed Tahlequah’s level of treatment;


2003 – House Bill #1422 – Legislationto designate the Blue River as Oklahoma Scenic River.Legislation failed to be enacted;


2003 – House Bill #1543 – Oklahoma SunsetLaw re-creating the OSRC to continue until July 1, 2009;


2003 – Senate Bill #75 – Modifies user fees to $1.00 per person per float trip on commercial and privately-owned flotation devices;


2003 – Senate Bill #357 – OSRA language clean up bill;


2003 – Senate Bill #407 - Legislationto designate the Honey Creek as Oklahoma Scenic River.Legislation failed to be enacted;


2006 – Senate Bill #1785 - Introducedto disband the OSRC. Legislation failed to be enacted.


2006 – Senate Bill #1019 – SecondAttempted Legislation to designate the BlueRiver as Oklahoma Scenic River. Legislation failed again to be enacted;

2008 – Senate Bill #1381 – Removed the$1.00 user fee charged to commercial and privately-owned floaters. Removed Audit requirement for CFO and increased the annual commercial flotation device license from $5.00 to $35.00 annually;


2009 – House Bill # 1017 – Oklahoma SunsetLaw re-creating the OSRC to continue until July 1, 2013 (reduced from 5 year to4-year review process);


2009 – House Bill #1121 – Authorizesthe OSRC to expend funds within the drainage basin of a scenic river for water quality monitoring and improvements;


2009 – Senate Resolution #44 – to disapprove OSHRC rules related to the requirement that ice chests shall be secured to prevent litter/trash occurring from spillage in capsizing events. Resolution Was withdrawn by the authors.  


2010 – House Bill # 3173 – to consolidate the OSRC with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and Oklahoma Tourism And Recreation Department. Failed enactment;


2011 – House Bill # 1541 – Introducedas Oklahoma Agency Consolidation Bill to consolidate nine state agencies,commissions and boards. As of Thursday, February 23, 

2011, OSRC is withdrawn from proposal by House Author; and,


2011 – House Bill #1496 – As introduced, reduces the $35.00 commercial flotation device license to $5.00, annually and imposes a $1.00 user fee on all persons per trip floating in the commercial flotation device.


(Note by Ed Brocksmith, Save the Illinois River, Inc. (STIR):


In 2016, Oklahoma’s .037 mg/L phosphorus limit for scenic rivers was determined to be scientifically-based and Arkansas agreed to abide by the limit.  The action was the result of a two-year study by Baylor University paid for by Arkansas.  As of this date, November 12, 2018, the OklahomaWater Resources Board has not adopted the recommendations of the BaylorUniversity study including changes in the criteria for measuring phosphorus.  Save the Illinois River and other organizations who are members of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma are presently attempting to require Oklahoma to enforce the .037 mg/L phosphorus limit at the state border with Arkansas.


On July 1, 2016, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission was merged with the GrandRiver Dam Authority, GRDA.  Ed Fiteis GRADE Vice President of Scenic Rivers Operations).


In 2018, the U.S.EPA said it would not perform a TotalMaximum Daily Load (TMDL) study of the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake.  However, EPA provided Oklahoma and Arkansaswith a watershed model for TMDLs of the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller).  Oklahoma officials said they would not perform the TMDL but would seek a watershed management agreement with Arkansas To achieve the .037 mg/L limit.  In 2016,Arkansas removed segments of the Illinois River and some tributaries from its list of impaired waters, 303(d) list, thereby avoiding the necessity of performing a TMDL for the Illinois River in Arkansas.)


Contact:Ed Fite

OklahomaScenic Rivers Commission

P.O. Box 292

Tahlequah, OK 74465-0292

Office:(918) 456-3251

Fax:(918) 456-8466

Cell:(918) 207-8180