Nine Oklahoma Rivers Removed from Impaired Rivers Listing by EPAMon, 19 May 2014 20:13:26 CDT
Despite on-going drought, nine more Oklahoma streams have been removed from the impaired streams listing by the EPA. Government agencies made the announcement Monday at the state capital. Oklahoma Conservation Commission Water Quality Division Director Shannon Phillips is surprised by the success with the on-going drought. Phillips and NRCS Conservationist Gary o"Neil talked with RON's Leslie Smith and you can hear their comments in Leslie's audio report at the bottom of this story.
"The drought has been so significant and has the potential to have some very dramatic impacts," Phillips said. "As there is less water washing into streams, so there is less dillution of the pollutants that are there and when it does wash into streams it carrys a lot more polluants with it because of the quality of the vegetation that's on the land has been that much more hampered".
Maintaining these practices is particularly important in times of drought because less frequent rainfall can negatively impact water quality. Existing pollutants in the water become more concentrated as water levels decrease. This can harm organisms living in the water and require additional chemicals to treat drinking water. Along banks, dry, sparser vegetation filters water runoff less effectively, while less frequent rain leads to higher concentrations of pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizers to accumulate on the ground. When rain finally does wash pollutants into streams, the higher concentrations can overwhelm ecosystems.
"In much the same way voluntary conservation practices being used by farmers and ranchers have so far prevented Oklahoma from slipping back into another Dust Bowl during this drought, it's our hope that these best management practices will prevent water quality problems when the rains finally come," said Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
The nine streams are located statewide in Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Garfield, Grant, Key, Logan, McIntosh, Osage and Pontotoe counties. Phillips says for rivers to be delisted the data has to show several years in improvement.
"These are typically streams that have remained off the list for maybe two to four cycles and that's when we're ready to say the success has really been lasting and it going throughout variable environmental conditions, " Phillips said.
Improvement in water quality is tied to voluntary efforts by landowners and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. State Conservationist Gary O'Neil says conservation is often possible with federal financial assistance through the Farm Bill such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
"A lot of these practices, like no-till conservation, cover crops, improved grazings, there are a lot of practices that have impacts on water quality and that's we can show those improvements by getting those practices targeted in the right places through a landowner," O'Neil said.
Part of the success goes back to 2000, when the state also recognized the need for a water quality monitoring program. This has allow the state to track the water quality in the state.
"Without the monitoring you can't really show that you're having any impact and thats the real strength of the Oklahoma system, they've had it so long in place that we have long-term data that you can start showing impacts and how well you addressing those", O'Neil said.
With this latest announcement, the state has 46 total streams that have been removed from the list of impaired streams. Oklahoma is adding approximately six to seven streams annually to the list, well-ahead of Environmental Protection Agency projections.
OCC monitors approximately 450 streams statewide on a five year rotation. Monitoring data is used to determine water quality and identify how conservation practices are affecting streams, as well as how and where conservation efforts should be focused in the future.
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