Water quality experts will address this week what is believed by some to be the next milestone toward curbing pollution within the Illinois River watershed.

Quang Nguyen, who is heading up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to establish limits on pollutants entering the scenic river, will be in Tahlequah to present a project update.

 The EPA initiated the Illinois River watershed modeling and development project to better understand the relationship between phosphorus sources and water quality in the watershed.

In response to deteriorating water quality the agency began working to establish total maximum daily loads, or TMDL, for pollutants entering the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake. TMDL is a calculation for maximum amounts of any pollutant introduced into a body of water that safely maintains water-quality standards.

The agency set a December 2011 deadline for project completion, but a request by a congressional delegation for a peer review of the process delayed the project. The peer review is expected to begin by early fall.

Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite said he expects the TMDL will  in place within the next two years.

Denise Deason-Toyne, president of Save the Illinois River, said the citizens coalition is disappointed with the delay. Members of the organization say the “the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake will never be all they can be unless watershed pollution is brought under control.”

“We hope that it will only be for the stated three months,” Deason-Toyne said about the TMDL development project. “It is imperative that the EPA gets this right, and we move toward improving the water quality as soon as possible.”

Fite said the renewal of all permits for wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Illinois River watershed have been put on hold until the TMDL project is completed.

Deason-Toyne said older facilities like those at Tahlequah and Westville will continue to discharge phosphorus at levels exceeding the state’s standards for scenic rivers. That numeric standard, which was established in 2003, is scheduled for full implementation July 1.  

Thursday’s meeting, which is being sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, will give residents a chance to hear about progress being made toward the TMDL development project.

Nguyen will present background information about the project, give updates about watershed and lake modeling, and present a tentative schedule for completion. A question-and-answer segment also is planned.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. today at the Armory Municipal Building in Tahlequah.

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

If you go

WHAT: Illinois River Watershed Modeling and TMDL Development Project Informational Meeting.

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center, 100 N. Water St., Room 3.

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