U.S. Water News Online
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Despite strong opposition from Arkansas
officials, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has signed tough, new water
pollution standards affecting both states.
The rules restrict the level of phosphorous in Oklahoma's six
designated scenic rivers to 0.037 parts per million. Arkansas is
affected because the Illinois River flows from Arkansas to Oklahoma.
The average phosphorous level of the Illinois at Watts -- near
where the river crosses into Oklahoma -- is 0.25 parts per million,
or about seven times the new standard, according to Phillip Moershel
of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has called the standards unrealistic
and impossible to meet without widescale business disruptions in his
Keating called the standards ``tough but fair.''
``This is a historic and aggressive attempt to maintain the
quality of our scenic rivers,'' Keating said. ``I think these limits,
with which both Oklahoma and Arkansas must comply, are fair and
The two states will have 10 years to fully comply with the rules.
Huckabee argues the rules will restrict growth in booming
northwestern Arkansas, which has a heavy concentration of poultry
He said Keating made a decision ``driven more by environmental
politics than by sound science.''
``The limits being set by Oklahoma fly in the face of reason,
common sense and the scientific evidence that's now available,'' he
said. ``We will continue working with Oklahoma to come to what we
consider to be a more reasonable limit on phosphorus discharges.''
The governor said Arkansas would work diligently to improve water
quality standards throughout the state.
Doug Szenher, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of
Environmental Quality, said officials from his office plan to meet
with Oklahoma environmental officials.
``From our standpoint, we are still hopeful to continue
discussions with Oklahoma. We understand they have agreed to have
some meetings on this and other issues,'' he said. ``We understand
the EPA has said they will offer their assistance, and we welcome
Keating said he asked Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Brian
Griffin to meet as soon as possible with Huckabee and Arkansas' top
environmental officials to discuss implementation of the rules.
Oklahoma officials said Arkansas must comply with the new
standards under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that said upstream
states are subject to downstream water quality regulations.
There have been threats of new litigation over the issue.
``I want to stress that this critical phosphorous standard was not
promulgated with the malicious intent to sue Arkansas,'' Griffin
said. ``Rather, this standard was scientifically derived to protect
the water quality of Oklahoma's treasured scenic rivers and, thus,
will require major changes in these watersheds irrespective of
Keating, in a letter to Huckabee, said the rules are needed
because voluntary restrictions had not worked.
``The voluntary 40 percent phosphorous reduction agreed upon by
both states has resulted in no improvement to the Illinois River,
thus it becomes incumbent upon us to take more weighty measures
before these irreplaceable waters suffer irreparable impairment,''
Oklahoma officials said there was a significant increase in
phosphorous levels in the Illinois in 2000 and 2001 after minute
declines in 1998 and 1999.
They said phosphorous from sewage, animal waste and fertilizer is
increasing plant life in the Illinois, reducing oxygen, creating an
odor and threatening aquatic life.
Earlier this year, Huckabee warned that if Oklahoma imposed the
new phosphorous standards, he would place tougher limits on chloride
in the Arkansas River, which flows east from Kansas, through Oklahoma
and into Arkansas.
Oklahoma officials denied Huckabee's charge that chloride from
Oklahoma's petrochemical industry was polluting the river, and
Arkansas officials let the matter drop.
In addition to the Illinois, the new phosphorous standards will be
imposed on the Baron Fork River, Lee Creek, Little Lee Creek, Flint
Creek and the Upper Mountain Fork River.
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