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 anextensive Algonquin tribe. The name was undoubtedly introduced to the region bythe Osage Indians, traditional allies of the Illinois Indian Tribe… George F. Shrirk


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


The Illinois Riveris named for the Illinois Indian Tribe… BradAgnew


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

David Strickland probably loved the Illinois River most of all the rivers he fought toprotect. He gave it more of his time and attention. At the moment of his deathin an automobile accident, he was on an errand for the Illinois. David was propelled by one burningdetermination: to preserve a parcel of the natural world for cominggenerations. He went to meetings, gave speeches, dispatched mass mailings,talked with people. He pursued his cause with great intensity; not everyoneliked 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 hewas our Nation’s Conservationist of the Year) but no money rewards. David’sdream was for the Illinois River to remainunharmed for people’s enjoyment… David loved rivers and fought hard to protectthem… for people. Kenneth L. Smith


David was President of The Scenic Rivers Association of Oklahoma 1969-1976.And, Ed Brocksmith has been as 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, therewere 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, Congressaffirmed: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States thatcertain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments,possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish andwildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved infree-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall beprotected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. TheCongress declares that the established national policy of dam and otherconstruction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United Statesneeds to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected riversor sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the waterquality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservationpurposes.”


 P.L.90-542 included eight (8) rivers that were “instantly” designated as componentsof the NWSRA along w/listing twenty-seven (27) other rivers marked for study todetermine their potential for addition to the NWSRA system of named/protectedrivers (Total 35 Rivers). The Illinois Riverand tributaries were not named on that list at the time, yet their possibilitywas discussed. What is interesting is that our United States has in excess of10,000 rivers with these stream reaches totaling in excess of 3.5 million milesof rivers.


One of the tools used by Congress toachieve the purposes of the NWSRA was using eminent domain to condemn to thetune not to exceed 100 acres per running mile of river to create protection zoneson each side of those rivers federally designated. People along the riverfeared governmental controls; they were concerned homes, farms and businesseswould come under restrictions.


When that one particular tool becamepublic knowledge, there were approximately thirty (30) states that go about thebusiness of passing some type of local/state-level wild and scenic riversprotections acts in hopes of divert any possible use of the NWSRA in theirrespective states. Oklahomawas one of those states.


From 1968 until 1970, Oklahoma struggled with various attempts toestablish 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 placedinto our state’s scenic river system: (1) the Flint Creek and Illinois Riverabove the 650-foot elevation level of Tenkiller Reservoir in Cherokee, Adairand Delaware Counties; (2) the Barren Fork Creek in Adair and Cherokee Countiesfrom 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 Actof 1970 was vague and lacked acquisition or management authority to any stateagency.     



In 1974, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act wasamended by House Bill #1639 adding 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 inthese United States, the Illinois River was in the top 64???? Wow…


Later in 1975, a public information meetingto announce initiation of the Illinois River Study was held in Tahlequah. Localreaction to the proposed study and inclusion to NWSRA was totally negative(long story there for another time). Yet, environmental interests continued topress for inclusion of the Illinois River as acomponent of the NWSRA. They felt government controls were needed to protectwater quality and aesthetics throughout the river basin. Throughout the nextyear and a half tensions were high…


In 1977, two (2) pieces of legislationwere enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature: the first happened at the verybeginning of the session. House Bill #1015 (meaning some strong politicalhorsepower was used) was enacted to add Little Lee’s Creek, sometimes referredto as Little Lee Creek, located in Adair and Sequoyah Counties, beginningapproximately four (4) miles east-southeast of Stilwell, Oklahoma, extendingdownstream 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 amendthe OSRA to create the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and assign manage 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 beenmired in turmoil…


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


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


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

went on to obtain a law degree and hasserved 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 furtherdevelopment of Flint Ridge subdivision. An appeals court upheld the injunction,but in 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled development of Flint Ridge couldproceed.  


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


1981 – Northeastern State Universityconvenes Illinois River Symposium which results in white paper published containingrecommendations and calling the present Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission “adismal failure…”;


1984 – Save the Illinois River (STIR),Inc is chartered to provide a public voice for preservation and protection ofthe 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 itswaste water 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 agreedto build a new waste water treatment plant utilizing construction grant fundsprovided from the state/USEPA for advanced treatment processes and retentionstorage basins;


1984-1990 – Administrative and CourtAction related to Lake Frances Dam. That action was abated when flood waters causedthe 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, Arkansasplans to discharge treated waste water into the Illinois River Basin.In that case, the Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma’sWater Quality Standards can be applied to Arkansasby USEPA, yet only at OK-AR state line and that Fayetteville could discharge into the basin. (Note: USEPA sided with Arkansas at theadministrative level, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals-Denver ruledunanimously in favor of Oklahoma against July 1990 w/o stay imposed and thatdecision was appealed to US Supreme Court by USEPA/Arkansas w/arguments inDecember 1991 and ruling February 26, 1992);


1997 – Governor Frank Keating appointsanimal waste and water quality protection task force. The task force evaluatespoultry waste issues and recommends strategies leading to enactment oflegislation to control wastes;


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


2000-2001 – OSRC leads state’s effortsto develop and implement scenic rivers 0.037 mg/L phosphorus water qualitystandards through Oklahoma Water Resources Board. OSRC Administrator actuallyrecommended 0.02mg/L phosphorus standard;


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


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


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






***OSRA/OSRC Legislation during Ed Fite’stenure***


1984 – House Bill #1631 - Removed thosecommissioner 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 toremove all waste water from the Illinois Riverby January 1, 2000. Legislation failed to be enacted;


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


1989 – Senate Bill #318 - Exemptedcommercial flotation device operations (CFDO) from requirement to be licensedby Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC);


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


1990 – Senate Bill #880 - Adds those portionsof 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 - Authorizedassessment 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 failedto be enacted;


1996 – Senate Bill #876 – Languageclean 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 languageclean up bill of Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act;


1999 – Senate Bill #239 – Introduced toabolish 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 officersand no longer a division of OTRD;


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


2002 - Senate Bill #972 – Requiresstate agencies to provide annual report to state legislature on status ofscenic rivers and protects TPWA from requirement to upgrade WWTP until allcommunities 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 userfees to $1.00 per person per float trip on commercial and privately-ownedflotation devices;


2003 – Senate Bill #357 – OSRA languageclean 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 failedagain to be enacted;

2008 – Senate Bill #1381 – Removed the$1.00 user fee charged to commercial and privately-owned floaters. Removedaudit requirement for CFDO and increased the annual commercial flotation devicelicense 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 waterquality monitoring and improvements;


2009 – Senate Resolution #44 – todisapprove OSRC rules related to requirement that ice chest shall be secured toprevent litter/trash occurring from spillage in capsizing events. Resolutionwas withdrawn by authors. 


2010 – House Bill # 3173 – toconsolidate the OSRC with Oklahoma Conservation Commission and Oklahoma Tourismand 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 proposalby House Author; and,


2011 – House Bill #1496 – As introducedreduces $35.00 commercial flotation device license to $5.00, annually andimposes $1.00 user fee on all persons per trip floating in commercial flotationdevice.


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


In 2016, Oklahoma’s .037 mg/L phosphorus limit for scenicrivers was determined to be scientifically-based and Arkansas agreed to abideby the limit.  The action was result of atwo-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 otherorganizations who are members of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma arepresently attempting to require Oklahoma to enforce the .037 mg/L phosphoruslimit at the state border with Arkansas.


On July 1, 2016, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission wasmerged with the GrandRiver Dam Authority, GRDA.  Ed Fiteis GRDA 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 notperform the TMDL but would seek a watershed management agreement with Arkansasto achieve the .037 mg/L limit.  In 2016,Arkansas removed segments of the Illinois River and some tributaries from itslist of impaired waters, 303(d) list, thereby evading the necessity ofperforming 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



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