Enviros worry about proposed water rule change in Oklahoma

A proposed water rule change coming from an Oklahoma agency is opposed by environmentalists who contend it will only give chicken farmers the freedom to pollute eastern rivers and waterways.

At the heart of the controversy is the proposal from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board which would change water quality variances. The change in the temporary standards would allow discharges into public waters that exceed limits normally required for nutrients or chemicals.

Denise Deason-Toyne, president of STIR (Save The Illinois River) fears this rule change will lead to deterioration of the state’s designated Scenic Rivers.

“Oklahoma’s phosphorus limit for scenic rivers must be enforced without further delay,” Deason-Toyne said. “It must not be weakened for any amount of time, for any reason, for any entity, private, corporate or municipal.”

Ron Suttles, Board Chair of the Oklahoma Conservation Coalition has a similar fear, according to a press release from the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Oklahoma’s Scenic Rivers are important to this state and valued by its citizens.  Rejection of this proposed variance is an opportunity for decision makers to finally say, enough is enough,” said Suttles. “Its time we enforce our water quality standards and protect Oklahoma’s scenic rivers.”

Mark Derichsweiler, Sierra Club Vice-Chair, sees the rule change as a bad move being made to give polluters a free pass. Oklahoma has been wrangling with Arkansas chicken farms over phosphorous pollution in eastern Oklahoma for 20 years.

“This is all being driven by the phosphorus in our scenic rivers,” he said. “That’s why Arkansas wants this variance, so they wouldn’t have to meet that standard. They could get a variance– they would adopt what the water board says is a ‘temporary standard’ which would be less stringent.”

The Water Board will hold a hearing Jan. 15 at 9:30 a.m. at the OWRB headquarters in Oklahoma City.

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