MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 16, 2013

River advocates assail Ark. official’s remarks

He called state’s phosphorus standard ‘unfairly calculated’

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Comments this week by Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel about phosphorus standards set for Oklahoma’s scenic rivers drew criticism from some advocates of the numeric limits.

McDaniel told reporters in Fayetteville, Ark., that Oklahoma’s numeric phosphorus standard was “unfairly calculated.” His comments came less than a month after he and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt signed a three-year agreement that opens the door to study the Illinois River watershed.

McDaniel, according to reports by The Associated Press, said Wednesday that Arkansas entities will foot the bill for the $600,000 study that he believes will be more scientific and reasonable. Those who took part in establishing the present standard said a yearlong review concluded in 2012 showed it was scientifically sound.

The 0.037 mg/L standard adopted in 2003 was upheld this past year after a technical advisory group spent a year reviewing new scientific and technical evidence supporting its legitimacy. A minority report backed by two Arkansas agencies disputed the validity of the state’s standard, setting the stage for a lawsuit that was avoided by the agreement executed Feb. 20.

The standard was set to address the degradation of water quality within the Illinois River watershed. Stream overloading of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen promote vegetative growth, which depletes dissolved oxygen levels and reduces water quality.

Ed Fite, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission administrator and Oklahoma Water Resources Board member, said he witnessed the comprehensive review of the phosphorus standard from its inception. He described the process “as honest,” “scientifically thought out” and “transparent.”

The process involved representatives from both Oklahoma and Arkansas, the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The advisory group’s majority report found the present standard to be “right in the strike zone” and warranted no alteration.

“I’m certain folks don’t realize that the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma concluded the negotiated and executed new second Arkansas-Oklahoma Statement of Joint Principles and Actions Agreement,” Fite said. “The newest agreement sets out that both states have agreed to fully commit themselves to the results of what I find will also be a very transparent, open-to-the-public process.”

Ed Brocksmith, a founding member and treasurer of Save the Illinois River, defended Oklahoma’s numeric standard. He said meeting that “standard for scenic rivers is not unrealistic.”

“Many sewage treatment plants in the United States, including the newest facility in northwest Arkansas, are meeting or exceeding the 0.037 mg/L limit,” Brocksmith said. “However, meeting the limit is difficult because of decades of phosphorus pollution from poultry farms.”

Brocksmith said the study demanded by northwestern Arkansas interests could cost up to $1 million. He said that money could be spent more wisely on watershed improvements.

Fite said since the standard was adopted in 2003, more than $300 million has been spent within the watershed to curb phosphorus emissions from wastewater treatment facilities. He said about 75 percent of the poultry litter generated within the watershed is being hauled outside the basin.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.