Cherokee County is home to not only a state-designated scenic river, but one that has also garnered national protection.
Over the years, the Illinois River has been in the spotlight not just for its recreational value, but because its integrity has been threatened by phosphorus contamination due to the many poultry operations in Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma.
But new construction within city limits can also have a negative effect on the Illinois River, if proper stormwater runoff prevention techniques are not in place.
On June 29, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality announced it will review its permitting process for construction storm water runoff prevention, which includes a public meeting at 2 p.m., Monday, July 30, in Oklahoma City.
According to current ODEQ regulations, a general construction permit is required of any builder whose new construction operation disturbs land “equal to or greater than one acre, or less than one acre if they are part of a larger common plan of development or sale that totals at least one acre.” The general permit, OKR10, is set to expire Sept. 12.
In recent years, Tahlequah has experienced exponential growth in both population and businesses. The boost in the economy is welcomed by most everyone, and those who keep an eye on environmental issues hope the growth continues, as long as accountability remains intact.
Save the Illinois River Inc. President Denise Deason-Toyne believes the ODEQ permitting process is crucial to maintaining the viability of local water sources.
“It’s critical that the [ODEQ permitting] requirement and review process is maintained,” said Deason-Toyne. “We’ve come so far with the protection of the Illinois River by developing water quality standards, and it must be continued. While we’re all in favor of growth, it has to be planned with the protection of the environment and our most precious resource – water – in mind.”
Tahlequah City Planner Doug Moore said due to the municipality’s proximity to a nationally designated scenic stream, Tahlequah has – and is required to have – a stormwater program that is regularly reviewed and updated.
“The city complies with the OKR10 in instances of construction,” said Moore. “We’ve been without a stormwater project manager for over a year now, and we’re hoping to hire someone shortly.”
Moore explained how construction sites are set up to prevent runoff of materials.
“New construction projects require permits from the ODEQ,” said Moore. “For those who may not understand, construction companies place hay bales and silt fencing around those projects to prevent runoff into surrounding streams, rivers and lakes. Once ground is disturbed in cases of construction, when it rains, the sediment gets caught in the hay bales and silt fencing, which prevents run off into surrounding bodies of water. It’s particularly important here, as the Illinois River is a nationally designated scenic river. This is one reason why Tahlequah is required to have a stormwater program, as the creeks running through the city are tributaries of the Illinois River.”
Tahlequah Public Works Authority customers help provide the local stormwater runoff program through a $2 monthly fee.
“Some people get uptight about the $2 stormwater program fee, but that money covers the reports and studies required to keep our stormwater program in place and up to date,” said Moore.
The city conducts inspections of new construction as part of complying with the stormwater management plan.
“We do a lot of inspections, particularly when new businesses are under construction, to make sure they comply with our plan, and ODEQ does the same with its permitting process,” he said. “For the most part, builders comply with the rules, but every once in a while, we have to remind people about silt fencing and protecting the site from runoff. If a builder fails to comply, the worst-case scenario is that we have to halt construction, but that rarely happens.”
Moore said new construction at Northeastern State University sets a good example of environmental stewardship.
“The new activity building going up at NSU is probably the best example of good stormwater runoff prevention practices,” he said. “They have installed silt fence around the perimeter, and also included silt fence in conjunction with the chainlink fence they have.”
According to the DEQ, copies of the draft permit, notice of intent, notice of termination and supporting documents are available on the agency’s website: http://www. deq.state.ok.us/WQDnew/stormwater. The comment period is open for 30 days, and conclude July 31. Those who have concerns are asked to submit them in writing to Karen Kaihua Milford, Water Quality Division, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 1677, Oklahoma City, Okla., 73101-1677, or email Water.Com email@example.com.
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