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Conservation groups disappointed with Illinois River plan

November 15, 2018
FILE - In this July 16, 2009, file photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson stands by the Illinois river in Tahlequah, Okla., when he sued 12 Arkansas poultry companies for polluting the Illinois River watershed. Conservation groups are expressing disappointment with an agreement between Oklahoma and Arkansas officials to study ways to improve water quality in the Illinois River watershed. The groups say the agreement fails to control pollution of the river in Oklahoma and merely calls for another study of the river's basin. (AP Photo/Brandi Simons, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Conservation groups are expressing disappointment with a memorandum of agreement between Oklahoma and Arkansas officials to study ways to improve water quality in the Illinois River watershed.

“This MOA proposes absolutely no provisions that will result in substantial water quality improvements any time soon,” said Ed Brocksmith of Tahlequah, a member of the group Save The Illinois River.

Pollution of the river and its 1-million-acre watershed, allegedly by chicken farmers in northeastern Oklahoma who were contracted by several poultry companies, has been a decades long disagreement between the two states, Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague, a signer of the MOA, said Thursday.

“If those groups are saying this doesn’t go far enough in cleaning up the water, or doesn’t go fast enough, at least it’s a step forward ... I need them to keep pushing me ... do more, get faster,” Teague said Thursday.

Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keough and Arkansas Natural Resources Commission Executive Director Bruce Holland also signed the agreement, which was praised by the governors of both states.

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson alleged in a 2005 federal lawsuit against the poultry companies that waste from chickens grown by farmers the companies contracted with had led to runoff that contributed to the pollution of the river.

A ruling in the lawsuit, in which closing arguments were made in February 2010, remains pending by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell in Tulsa.

Edmondson said Thursday that he doesn’t know why there has been no ruling in the lawsuit.

Denise Deason-Toyne, President of Save The Illinois River, said the MOA provisions for wastewater discharges could result in phosphorous levels of up to 0.2 milligrams per liter of water, compared to an Oklahoma regulation of no more than 0.037 mg/L.

“The MOA only says that new permit applications will be evaluated to see if they might be capable of meeting some new limits,” of up to 0.2 milligrams per liter of water, Deason-Toyne said.

“I’m not surprised Arkansas has never stopped trying to change the rules,” Edmondson, the former Oklahoma attorney general said. “I really can’t blame Arkansas for not being satisfied, it’s their poultry industry.”

Teague said the MOA does not call for more study, but requires that agencies in the two states implement an agreement that limits phosphorous in the Illinois River to the limit of 0.037 mg/L.

“This agreement is about how to implement that joint study,” Teague said.

Under the agreement, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is to develop and present water quality standards to the Oklahoma governor for consideration during the 2019 legislative session.

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