STIR objects to ODAFF failure to file report detailing poultry waste's effect

Members of Save the Illinois River, Inc., have expressed concern to state officials about the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry's decision not to produce a poultry waste report this year.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry will not produce an annual poultry waste report this year, leaving advocates for a cleaner Illinois River Watershed disappointed.

According to state officials, the ODAFF will not produce the document that allows conservationists to study the impact of poultry litter in the watershed, because it is not required by state statute and the ODAFF is short-staffed. It is a report members of Save the Illinois River Inc. anticipate every year, and recently, President Denise Deason-Toyne sent a letter to the ODAFF, urging state officials to reconsider.

"Because this report is in the public's interest, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has a duty to compile the report even if the current state laws do not specifically require it," said Deason-Toyne. "The report also is in the interest of best management of the waters of the state of Oklahoma. We feel that staffing problems that may have been caused by the coronavirus, although regrettable, are not sufficient cause to withhold the report."

The last report, issued in April of 2019, showed that 12,774 tons of poultry waste were applied within the watershed west of the Arkansas state line during fiscal year 2018. That was a decrease from the previous year's 15,704 tons.

Meanwhile, phosphorus limit of 0.037 mg/L adopted by Oklahoma and Arkansas have yet to be met. Phosphorus loading within the watershed increased by more than 63 percent from the previous five-year rolling average. That's a concern for STIR members, since phosphorus is the primary source of pollution in the watershed.

According to an environmental committee report by the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission, the average phosphorus in the Illinois River near Tahlequah was 0.059 mg/L.

"The primary source of this nutrient is from nonpoint sources," said Deason-Toyne. "Animal feeding operations, mainly poultry farms, are the primary sources of phosphorus and bacteria from animal feeding operations."

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Deason-Toyne said other state agencies and her own organization have still been able to meet their obligations, and added that even if the agriculture department can't produce an official summary report of the waste production, the current data should still be made available to the public.

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