By TEDDYE SNELL
Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission board members learned Tuesday night about a potential negotiated agreement between Oklahoma and Arkansas with regard to nutrient load limits in the Illinois River Watershed.
According to OSRC Administrator Ed Fite, a 10-year statement of joint principles was agreed to by governors in Oklahoma and Arkansas in 2003, creating a .037 milligram per liter total maximum daily limit of phosphorus for the watershed. The agreement expired July 1, 2012.
“Since July 1, the two states have been actively discussing how we can address some of Arkansas’ concerns, because the river does not meet the .037 standard,” said Fite.
Ed Brocksmith, founding member of Save The Illinois River, met Tuesday with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, to voice the organization’s concerns that the limit would be abandoned under new agreement between the states. Fite also attended the meeting.
According to a letter provided by STIR, the proposed, new three-year agreement could permit a stressor-response study of the Illinois River Watershed in either Arkansas or Oklahoma or both states. STIR indicated this type of water quality study is viewed as flawed by some scientists and are not protective of reservoirs such as Lake Tenkiller.
“There have been a lot of rumors, and a lot of serious concerns about what [a new agreement] might mean for the TMDL study and the phosphorus limit, and what it might mean to Lake Tenkiller,” said Brocksmith. “But the bottom line is we assured the attorney general and his staff that Oklahoma is not going to roll over and play dead on this new three-year agreement. The verdict is still out, but overall, it looks like a pretty sound agreement. For the first time, it would provide an enforceable agreement with Arkansas on the .037 limit.”
Both Brocksmith and Fite said a copy of the agreement has not been circulated yet.
“All along, [STIR was] denied a copy,” said Brocksmith. “Stakeholders were not consulted at all in the formation of this. I’m not sure the OSRC was consulted. As I said, we had a candid and open discussion, and the attorney general promised us an open door. We also set up communication with our attorney, Bob Kellogg.”
Fite indicated a lot of work on the project had taken place due to talk of possible litigation between the states. Fite is a signatory for the agreement, and believes it’s important to keep communication open and civil.
“Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Environmental Protection Agency are all three trying to get along together,” said Fite. “Neither Oklahoma, nor Arkansas, nor the EPA have clean hands when it comes to some of the issues we’ve been dealing with in years past. Nonetheless, I believe they are all trying. The river is cleaner than in was 10 years ago. But, if the three entities stop working together and talk about protracted litigation, it harms the river. I trust Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Environment Gary Sherrer. They’re Oklahomans and will do good. I also have faith in the scientific committee to be appointed if the deal is inked. What I got from Pruitt today is that the door is wide open to anyone who wants to talk about scenic rivers.”