by Mitch Ballard, Special to the Cherokee Observer. Recipient of the 1996 Conservation Communicator Award from the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation. Typed by Amber Dawn……
About 150 area citizens attended a public meeting at the Jay Community Center Thursday, March 27 and heard from several speakers, including Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage, about the pollution of the Lake Eucha watershed.
“It is imperative to act now,” Kevin Wagner,
a Water Quality Analyst with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission said, “nitrogen is not the problem, phosphorus is.”
“Besides being the primary drinking water source for the City of Tulsa and Jay, Lake Eucha has one of the finest largemouth bass fisheries in the State of Oklahoma,” he pointed out.
The meeting was hosted by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and details regarding the recently-released, federally-funded EPA study of the lake, and its tributaries, were discussed.
Some startling facts were revealed at the meeting. Of the confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) within the watershed, there are 714 chicken houses, 57 hog houses and five turkey houses.
“About 71 million birds spend their life span within the watershed every year,” Wagner said.
A total of 8.25 million pounds of nitrogen was excreted by animals within the watershed during 1996, the report indicates.
That equals the same amount produced by 1.3 million humans.
About 2.585 million pounds of phosphorus was excreted in 1996, which equals the amount produced by 3.8 million humans.
“That’s more than the entire population of the state,” Wagner pointed out, “and that’s only within the Eucha watershed.”
“Humans contribute 0.1 percent, while animals contribute 99.9 percent of the nutrient loading,” Wagner said.
“In summary, the high algae levels in the lake threaten its use as a drinking water source, as time goes by, at some point, the watershed can become saturated and the water quality will diminish rapidly, almost to a point of no return…in fact Lake Eucha retains 78 percent of the phosphorus loading and 60 percent of the nitrogen and that will be enough to maintain the algae and nutrient levels – even if the pollution sources are completely eliminated – then no matter what you do, the lake will be ruined,” he said.
“It’s imperative to act now,” he emphasized.
From 1977 to 1995, phosphorous levels have tripled, while nitrogen levels have doubled.
The last speaker was Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage. “My office received this report just a couple of problem right away,” she said.
She said the issue is very important to the City of Tulsa and it is impossible to grow and thrive without clean water.
“There are enormous recreational opportunities as well as business and industrial growth, but they are not mutually exclusive,” she said.
“The challenges are many and I want to stress and re-emphasize there’s a tremendous amount to gain if we work together…excessive legislation is very slow and accomplishes very little compared to cooperative agreements,” she said, “regulation takes the most time and is often difficult to implement.” She said Tulsa is committed to producing a working relationship.
“We have the opportunity to do innovative things and we have the technology available to insure we preserve and protect what could become a disaster within the next three to five years,” she said.
With all the talk of cooperation, it is important to point out there were no representatives from the poultry industry at the meeting; none from Simmons, Tyson, Peterson or Hudson.
There were eight to 10 independent poultry growers at the meeting and several of them said they would be willing to form a more active Delaware County association to address the problems and work toward solving the problem.
Mayor Savage previously told the Metropolitan Utility Board she wants steps taken to reduce or eliminate “nutrient loading” (read: Water Pollution) in the watershed of Lakes Eucha and Spavinaw, and she blames poultry waste for high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen.
“If we don’t address remedial changes in a more comprehensive way now, we will find ourselves in a situation where our water quality is challenged daily,” Mayor Savage said Wednesday, March 19. A recently released report on the issue pointed oout chemicals does cause chronic taste and odor problems and eventually kills fish.
“If you live up there, you don’t need a study to tell you something’s wrong with the water,” Savage said. “Over the past five years, you can see the changes from upstream effects,” she said.
There are two ways of addressing the issue; one is voluntary and the other is regulatory.
“At the same time,: the EPA report states, “is should be clear if the voluntary approach does not work, then some type of regulatory action may be necessary in order to achieve the goal of nutrient reduction.”
According to John Hassell, Director of the Water Commission, who prepared the report summary,”Consideration also has to be given alternatives, if the voluntary approach does not work,” he said.
“Establish numerical limits for nitrogen and phosphorus for Spavinaw Creek and its tributaries, which are enforceable, if degradation continues regardless of the source,” Hassell said.
“This in effect establishes the entire watershed as a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and each intent and a pollution prevention plan on file,” he pointed out.
“To make any of the above recommendations work, you will need to involve the States of Oklahoma and the municipalities, conservation districts and producers,” the Water Quality Programs Director said.
“Pointing fingers…well nothing positive ever comes from it, every single person is part of the problem and therefore everybody is part of the solution,” Agency said.
He was admonished during the question and comment period.
“The U.S. Government does nothing! Where’s the Clean Water Act?”
Dave Ketcher, a Jay resident blasted.
Bira responded, “I disagree that we’ve not done anything, but there are no solutions, most problems have to be addressed at the state and local level.”
He acknowledged after the meeting, when questioned about failure of states to enforce the Clean Water Act that federal lawsuits forcing the EPA to step in and take action have accomplished some measure of success.