A "fenceline neighbors" organizer, journalists, factory farm pollution opponents and litter cleanup volunteers were honored at Save the Illinois River's 2019 annual membership meeting Saturday, Sept. 21 at Sequoyah Club near Tahlequah.
A call for Oklahoma to devote greater protection for ground water that feeds streams and wells was approved unanimously.
STIR's 2019 Water Warrior honor was awarded to Pam Kingfisher, of Moodys, who organized her Spring Creek neighbors to protest a rampage of new poultry farm construction in Delaware County. The group is known as the Green Country Guardians. Some 200 new poultry barns capable of growing thousands of birds yearly have been approved by the Oklahoma Agriculture Department in the nutrient-sensitive areas of Spring Creek and the Illinois River, two of Oklahoma's cleanest Ozarks streams. Her leadership resulted in the approval of setback regulations protecting owners from intrusive chicken houses abutting private property, schools and churches.
STIR recognized two outstanding Oklahoma journalists for excellence in environmental reporting. Kelly Bostian of the Tulsa Daily World and D.E. Smoot of the Muskogee Phoenix both provided outstanding coverage of poultry farm expansion in northeast Oklahoma including the Illinois River watershed. Smoot reports many aspects of Oklahoma Scenic River protection for the Phoenix and other newspapers, including the Tahlequah Daily Press.
Honored for the Lake Tenkiller shoreline litter cleanup called Tidy Up Tenkiller were Genny Maiden of the Greater Tenkiller Area Association and Gena McPhail, director of the Tahlequah Tourism Council. Thousands of pounds of trash and Styrofoam were collected at the August event co-sponsored by STIR. Tenkiller Lake was hard hit by a November tornado and then major flooding.
The clients of Oklahoma Production Center in Tahlequah were recognized for cleaning litter and trash from area roadsides. Former Oklahoma State Sen. Herb Rozell of Tahlequah, who shepherded the program through the Legislature, joined in presenting STIR's thanks for OPC's cleanup program. STIR Board of Directors member Jerry Hammons quipped, "We would be drowning in litter if not for the OPC litter crews." Also recognized were the Spring Creek Coalition and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. STIR presented a $1,000 contribution to Spring Creek Coalition's Beth Rooney of Tulsa. The gift will be used to achieve better regulation of expanding poultry farms in the Spring Creek and Illinois River watersheds.
Brian Thompson of Fayetteville, Arkansas, presented a program on the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance explaining how the group and allies used continuing public pressure to persuade Arkansas to buy out the controversial C&H Hog Farm. A permit for the farm on a tributary of the Buffalo National River was approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in a move many believe was an under-the-radar, colossal environmental blunder supported by the Arkansas Farm Bureau and some legislators. An investigation of hog manure leaking into ground water determined that Big Creek was polluted by nutrients from the farm. The Buffalo National River experienced one of its largest algae blooms in 2019 due to excess phosphorus and nitrates. The Buffalo River is America's first National River.
Members elected new officers and directors and approved changes in the group's bylaws designed to protect groundwater resources that contribute to Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. Opponents of new chicken farms in northeast Oklahoma have criticized Oklahoma regulators for approving water wells that are believed to have depleted water in private wells and springs. A study of aquifers in Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas is underway by the U.S. Geological Survey.
STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne said the bylaws changes recognize the need to protect important aquifers and hopefully will be recognized by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and Agriculture Department.
"These ground water resources are critical to the water quality as well as the water quantity of the Illinois River and Spring Creek and Lake Tenkiller," Deason-Toyne said. "Private water wells must be protected from over allocation of ground water as well as pollution from surface water," said Deason-Toyne, who noted the U.S. EPA's new Clean Water Rule devotes no attention to protection of ground water.
Re-elected to the STIR Board of Directors was Barb Daily of Tahlequah. Elected to the board was Sandy Whitekiller of Kansas, Oklahoma; she is a strong scenic river advocate who regularly picks up trash and litter on the Illinois River. Officers re-elected were: Deason-Toyne, president; Daily, vice president; and Ed Brocksmith, treasurer.
STIR was founded in 1984 in response to threats to the water quality of the Illinois River from a new sewage treatment plant in Fayetteville.
STIR and the state of Oklahoma pressed a lawsuit against the EPA which was ultimately ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court in a precedent-setting decision that upstream states must meet the water quality standards of downstream states. STIR members fought for and achieved approval of a numeric phosphorus limit for designated Oklahoma Scenic Rivers and higher water quality rules for Tenkiller Lake.
STIR's web site is at www.illinoisriver.org.