Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

January 17, 2012

STIR decries lawmakers’ letter to EPA

TAHLEQUAH — Just months before a phosphorus limit for the Illinois River watershed becomes effective, several Oklahoma and Arkansas lawmakers may be seeking a delay in a study of the issue by the Environmental Protection Agency.

An earlier Daily Press report indicated a group is forming in Northwest Arkansas to continue a regional effort in both verifying the need and financial viability to achieve the .037 mpl phosphorus water quality standard set by Oklahoma.

On Dec. 9, Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., along with several Arkansas lawmakers, co-authored a letter to the EPA requesting the agency take time to “thoroughly vet” the study before making any final decisions on Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus.

Save The Illinois River Inc., a local, nonprofit coalition that seeks to protect the river and Lake Tenkiller, has also written a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, stating lawmakers may be trying to prolong the completion and implementation of the EPA’s study.

“Founded in 1984, STIR has played an important part in the adoption of significant water quality regulations in Oklahoma,” wrote STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne.

“One of these protective regulations is an instream numeric limit for phosphorus in legally designated Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. STIR is very concerned that there may currently be an effort to steer the EPA’s TMDL study in order to prolong and confuse its completion and implementation. Those responsible for this effort may also be targeting the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers phosphorus limit which has been approved by the EPA, our governor, and the Oklahoma legislature.”

Deason-Toyne indicated the fact that Arkansas lawmakers oppose the standard comes as no surprise, but she finds it troubling that Inhofe, Coburn and Boren have joined the fray.

“We must know who is polluting the Illinois River watershed and from where the pollution is coming,” wrote Deason-Toyne. “The EPA’s TMDL, we sincerely hope, will answer these questions once and for all.”

The letter signed by Inhofe, Coburn and Boren states the EPA’s model, once complete, will be used as a regulatory tool for decision-making on nutrient reduction efforts in the watershed.

“We believe most stakeholders, including the EPA, sincerely wish to avoid the use of flawed modeling, which could lead to the development of a TMDL based on unsound information and accordingly inflict unneeded and inappropriate control mandates,” states the letter.

STIR member Kathy Tibbits believes Arkansas environmental agencies may have skewed results on to water samples.

“I’d say ‘flawed modeling based on unsound information’ would include Arkansas’ Department of Environmental Quality’s skewed sampling,” said Tibbits. “We wouldn’t want to sample when torrents kick up the settled bed sludge, would we? That would give us a too-accurate range of readings.”

STIR members, including Ed Brocksmith, believe the EPA’s endeavor is important because it’s a scientific study of the sources of pollution for the watershed and what must be done to control it.

“Some people call it a pollution diet,” said Brocksmith. “The study is very important, because while we know the impact of the point sources of pollution, such as  wastewater treatment plants, we don’t have a firm grip on nonpoint sources, like poultry waste. We hope the study will give us an indication on that front and how big a problem it is. Incorporated in this is another study that will tell us how to protect Tenkiller Lake.”

Excess phosphorus and bacteria from poultry waste have had a negative impact on the Illinois River, and are causing “eutrophication,” a process in which bodies of water receive excess nutrients, stimulating excess plant growth – in Lake Tenkiller.

“STIR believes that the TMDL study of the Illinois River watershed, which should by all rights have been completed many years ago under the Clean Water Act, is essential in order to protect Tenkiller Lake µand the Illinois River,” wrote Deason-Toyne.

“STIR supports the need for adequate funding for the EPA TMDL study, and we support the need to use the best available science for the study. However, we would be very concerned if the TMDL study completion and implementation are unnecessarily delayed because of dirty water advocates.”

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