Spring Creek Coalition and member families filed administrative challenges protesting the re-registration of nine poultry feeding operations they say must "be revalidated and renewed annually" by state regulators.
Beth Rooney, SCC president and co-treasurer, said the protest "is just a first step" in the coalition's efforts to protect the watershed from the poultry industry's encroachment of the watershed.
"We are protesting the nine Simmons operations in the Spring Creek watershed that all went in at the same time — from October 2017 to September 2018 — without any warning or any time for those affected to react," Rooney said. "We are asking that the permits not be renewed until we have the opportunity to address all our concerns."
Oklahoma laws allow industrial-scale poultry growers to construct barns and begin operating with little notice to neighboring property owners. State law requires minimum payment to register a PFO, which must file a nutrient management plan.
The only legal notice required is for those PFOs that must secure water rights to support operations. Neighbors within the Spring Creek watershed, which stretches across parts of Cherokee, Delaware and Mayes counties, witnessed the construction of scores of poultry barns across parts of the watershed beginning in 2017.
The poultry industry, coalition members and others say, threatens water quantity within the Spring Creek watershed. Several wells and springs in the area reportedly dried up for the first time in 2018, a date that coincided with the startup of the new PFOs.
SCC members and others say the industry also threatens water quality. The application of the phosphorus-laden wastes produced by poultry production as fertilizer on pastures within the watershed can wash into streams, triggering algal blooms, which depletes dissolved oxygen and threaten aquatic life.
"We should have due process for them to hear our protests," Rooney said. "If we don't get that, then we've got something — we've been denied due process."
It was unclear on Monday when the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry would hear the protests. The agency's next scheduled board meeting is Feb. 3.