Save the Illinois River, Inc.
24369 E 757 Rd.
Tahlequah, OK 74464-1949
(918) 284-9440

EPA Studies of River and Lake Released

| Environment | August 26, 2018


STIR Editor's Note:  Five years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would seek the cooperation of Arkansas and Oklahoma in an effort to development Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake.  On April 17, the EPA Region 6 in Dallas, Texas released a statment saying TMDL models had been completed and would be released to the states.

You might think of a TMDL as a "pollution diet" for streams and lakes.

TMDLs are required by the federal Clean Water Act for waters listed by the states as impaired.  The Illinois River is listed by Oklahoma as impaired by nutrients (phosphorous), bacteria and sedimentation.

It appears that the EPA will leave development of TMDLs for the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake up to the states which have failed to act for decades.  Will this lead to years of further studies, meetings, and delays of enforcing Oklahoma's water quality standards, namely our phosphorous limit for scenic rivers?   STIR hopes not.

The following article in the Muskogee Phoenix was written by D.E. Smoot who has followed the situation closley.

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April 21, 2018


Proponents of clean water skeptical of models

By D.E. Smoot dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com

Clean-wateradvocates expressed cautious optimism about the release of models designed tolimit pollutants that flow into the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake. 

TheU.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released what it described as"science-based water quality models" to its "partneringagencies" in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The models, which simulate conditionswithin the watershed and the lake, establish total maximum daily loads forpollutants that impair the scenic river and downstream reservoir. 

TheEPA initiated the TMDL project in 2009 and published models in September 2015,but opposition from political and business interests delayed adoption andimplementation. The models have been undergoing a review and revision processduring the nearly four years that have passed since.

EPARegional Administrator Anne Idsal, in a news release, described the models as"great examples of how cooperative federalism works." Idsal said EPAduring the years has "made great progress by working with states, tribesand local agencies" to improve "conditions through thewatershed." 

ErinHatfield, communications director for the Oklahoma Department of EnvironmentalQuality, said EPA officials will meet during the coming weeks with partneragencies here to determine what the "next steps" will be. She saidODEQ, the agency that regulates point source pollution, will begin developing aprocess and timeline for implementation of the models once those meetings takeplace.

ATMDL is a calculation that establishes a maximum amount for a pollutant thatenters a body of water to ensure water quality standards are met for thepollutant identified. A TMDL also sets targets for reducing the pollutant andallocates load reductions among its various sources. 

TheClean Water Act requires states to develop TMDLs for all bodies of water thathave been identified as impaired. ODEQ records show three of four segments ofthe Illinois River that stretch from Arkansas to Tenkiller Lake were listed asimpaired in 2002 — the fourth was listed for the first time in 2006 — withphosphorus loading being a primary concern.   

Oklahomaadopted a numeric standard for phosphorus in in 2003 to address the degradationof water quality that had occurred within the Illinois River watershed and inother scenic rivers. Overloading of nutrients such as phosphorus promotesvegetative growth, which subsequently decays, depletes dissolved oxygen levels,kills aquatic life, and reduces water quality.

Anagreement struck in 2003 by Arkansas and Oklahoma officials delayed enforcementof the phosphorus standard for 10 years and required an extensive review of thestandard before full implementation. A second agreement struck in 2013produced a two-year study within the basin that produced a recommendation inDecember 2016 to reduce the 0.037 mg/L standard 0.035 mg/L and slightlydifferent ways to assess that measurement.

DeniseDeason-Toyne, president of Save the Illinois River, was among many whoexpressed frustration with delays during that time with the development of theTMDL models. Those delays were pushed by political and businessinterests with a history of opposing enforcement of water qualitystandards for the state's scenic rivers.

Deason-Toynesaid she is glad EPA has "come up with a model." But until the modelsare made available for review and analysis she will "remain cautiouslyoptimistic about this development."

"Iam glad the EPA finally worked its way through the science to get to thispoint, but until we see what the models actually are ... it will be hard to saywhether this will have the impact we need to see in the watershed,"Deason-Toyne said. "Hopefully it will be positive and we will see Oklahomaand Arkansas start working together for the benefit of all thestakeholders."

ShanonPhillips, director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's water qualitydivision, said she has yet to see the full model, but she and others at theagency that regulates nonpoint source pollution "have been confident withthe watershed model as it functions independently." She said questionscould arise about the way the lake model and the watershed model work together,but that remains to be seen. 

"Manyof us have been waiting for more than 20 years for a model for the IllinoisRiver Watershed that would help guide water quality improvement in thewatershed, and we are hopeful that these models will allow for that," Phillipssaid. "Regardless of the utility of the models, we’re going to keepworking with partners, including landowners, conservation districts, theNatural Resources Conservation Service, the Grand River Dam Authority andothers to protect the river and Lake Tenkiller."

Phillipssaid meetings are planned this week with representatives from EPA and agenciesfrom both Arkansas and Oklahoma.