U.S. Water News Online
TULSA, Okla. -- Going to court may be the only way for
Tulsa to protect its drinking water supply from further pollution,
says Mayor Susan Savage.
Nutrients suspected of flowing from the vast poultry industry
straddling the Oklahoma-Arkansas border continue to foul the water in
Lakes Eucha and Spavinaw in northeast Oklahoma, studies show.
Regulations and voluntary efforts haven't made a significant
difference in halting the pollution of the city's water supply,
``In my personal opinion,'' she said, ``litigation is at this
juncture the only solution that will end up making a difference.''
No decision has been made by the city whether to take legal
action. But the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority voted to hire
the Oklahoma City law firm McKinney & Stringer to research and
examine legal options.
The head of the Poultry Federation, representing the industry in
Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, said he was disappointed by Tulsa's
The industry has been working cooperatively to address the
phosphorous concerns, said Morril Harriman, executive vice president
of the Little Rock, Ark.-based federation.
``We are convinced that what we have been doing is reducing the
amount of phosphorous going into the watershed from our industry, and
will, over time, mitigate whatever impact poultry is having on
Eucha-Spavinaw,'' he said.
Savage said she came to her own opinion about litigation ``very
slowly and regretfully,'' but it will be up to the lawyers to decide
whether legal action is a realistic course to take.
The city's water treatment costs have tripled in recent years in
its fight to keep the water from tasting and smelling bad.
An Oklahoma State University study released last spring found that
74 percent of the phosphorous flowing into Lake Eucha comes from
non-point sources, which can include chicken waste applied to land as
fertilizer. Another 24 percent comes from the Decatur, Ark.,
wastewater plant, which is fed by a chicken processing plant.
The excess phosphorous is fueling algae growth, the source of the
foul taste and odor.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board found that the phosphorous load
entering Lake Eucha would have to be reduced by 70 percent to improve
the downstream water flowing into Lake Spavinaw and on to Tulsa.
Savage said an opinion issued by Attorney General Drew Edmondson
provides a ``window of potential opportunity,'' pointing to poultry
companies, not the individual poultry producers.
In the past, poultry companies have said contract growers, not
them, are responsible for chicken waste applied to their land.
Edmondson found that if a corporation hires an independent
contractor but controls every aspect of how the contractor does the
job, the contractor is no longer independent, shifting liability to
Savage said she could not say whether point-source pollution also
would be a target of any potential litigation.
Oklahoma enacted legislation in 1998 aimed at non-point source
pollution. It brought mandatory registration for poultry growers,
along with soil-testing, training, and fines for noncompliance.
Harriman said the poultry industry had worked with the Legislature
on those regulations. It also began requiring farms on both sides of
the state line to have litter management plans and use the best
management practices in spreading poultry waste.
He noted other efforts, including transporting waste out of the
watershed and exploring possible alternative uses of litter.
Harriman said little attention had been paid to other sources of
phosphorous in the watershed, such as cattle, septic tanks, or
commercial fertilizer used by farmers.
``Until all these things are addressed, it is going to be
difficult to gauge the impact of the poultry industry's efforts,''
Savage has met with representatives from the poultry industry. And
poultry officials said they were looking forward to meeting with her
again. But Savage said virtually no progress has been made.
``There has really been no action,'' she said. ``All the while,
the quality of the water continues to erode.''
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