One of the important beneficial uses for Oklahoma waters is water that
is suitable for fishing and swimming. It is a category of water quality
that has to do with human contact with water. Oklahoma�s scenic rivers
must meet those specific standards to attract tourism that some
northeastern communities depend on economically.
When targeting water quality one of the important stakeholder
groups to reach are agricultural producers. Nonpoint source pollution is
often an aggregate of many factors but the voluntary practices
implemented by producers and landowners in northeast Oklahoma have
helped to improve 485 acres of riparian, or stream side buffer zones.
Healthy riparian areas help reduce erosion which improves water quality.
It is grassroots efforts like this that are helping to improve water
quality in Oklahoma.
With 78,500 miles of rivers and streams throughout
Oklahoma, it�s hard to imagine how effective water quality monitoring is
even possible. That distance equates to about three times the
circumference of the earth. But Oklahomans, determined to improve water
quality, have found the recipe for success. Blend federal, state and
local conservation partners, add local farmers, ranchers and producers,
and mix well. Top with programs, special initiatives, education, and
cost share incentives and what do you get? A Bridge over �not so�
troubled waters. Results show that with collaborative efforts, strong
partnerships, and a common goal, success is sure to follow.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
received funding for a water quality initiative in the Illinois River
Sub-Basin and Eucha-Spavinaw Watershed in northeastern Oklahoma and
northwestern Arkansas. The purpose of the funding is to improve water
quality within the project area (which includes Lake Tenkiller, Lake
Eucha and Lake Spavinaw in Oklahoma). The Illinois River is a scenic
river that supports an important tourism industry based on recreation
activities like fishing and swimming and Lake Tenkiller serves as an
important water supply for surrounding communities. These activities
represent three human body contact beneficial uses of water according to
Oklahoma water quality standards.
High concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus,
sediments and bacteria plagued the area�s water bodies. Potential
non-point sources of these degrading agents included runoff from land
surfaces after application of animal manure/litter as fertilizer on
pastures, soil erosion, re-suspension of streambed sediments and
nutrients from poultry and other livestock farming operations within the
area. Efforts were already underway in 1998, when the Oklahoma
Conservation Commission and the Delaware County Conservation District
initiated a series of projects to improve the water quality of Lakes
Eucha and Spavinaw and their supplying streams.
In 1987, the EPA officially recognized that
nonpoint source (NPS) pollution was impairing the nation's waters and
preventing them from meeting the "fishable and swimmable" goals of the
Clean Water Act. A new section called 319 NPS Management Programs was
added to the Clean Water Act. Under the 319 program each state is
required to assess their waters for NPS pollution and develop a
management program that deals with the pollution. The Oklahoma
Conservation Commission is the state's lead agency for the 319 Program.
OCC monitors approximately 500 streams on a rotating basis.
Through conservation partners and agencies offering
funded programs, a significant reduction in NPS pollution occurred in
the project area targeted by the funding. Programs include the NRCS
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation
Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) 319 Nonpoint Source Program and the Oklahoma Conservation
Commission (OCC) Water Quality Division.
Oklahoma NRCS programs assisted 86 farm and ranch
operations covering 30,364 acres to voluntarily apply conservation
practices. As a result, 478,181 feet of fence to prevent random
animal access to streams were installed. A combined 36 cakeout and
composter facilities were constructed to
prevent animal waste discharge into surface water. Six hundred and nine acres of grazing land received improved
vegetative cover through Bermudagrass and fescue plantings. When accounting for the programs of the other
agencies, the numbers are much higher.
Oklahoma�s Impaired Waters List, commonly known as
the 303(d) list, are waters too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet
water quality standards set by states. Last year, Oklahoma removed four
streams from the list due to improvement shown with most recent
monitoring data. Eight additional streams from Oklahoma�s proposed 2010
impaired-waters list were submitted for removal this past summer.
In addition to reaching out to landowners and
poultry/cattle producers with educational information, stream monitoring
continues and best management practices are being installed on a
voluntary, cost-share basis. Some of those practices include: riparian
area/buffer zone establishment, exclusion fencing, alternative water
supplies, vegetative plantings, cross fencing, animal waste management
components, rural waste septic systems, stream bank stabilization, cross
fencing, planting pasture that was formerly cropland or poorly vegetated
pasture, water tanks, ponds, and wells to optimize pasture usage.
In 2010, analysis of nutrient and sediment reduction numbers from across
the nation showed that Oklahoma ranks among the top five for states
reducing contamination in the streams and rivers, according to the EPA.
The 319 Program Success Stories showcase improved water quality. The
dedicated work of farmers, ranchers and producers to control NPS
pollution by using voluntary programs, is paying off. More than 10
percent of the total amount of nitrogen reduced from water nationwide
was accounted for by reductions in Oklahoma. Of the total national
reductions of phosphorous in water, more than 16 percent of all
reductions happened in Oklahoma.