Oklahoma leads the nation in delisting polluted streams

A state agency is boasting of its accomplishments in creating improved conditions of lakes and streams in Oklahoma. It comes as Oklahoma is number one nationally in eliminating polluted streams.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s (OCC) Water Quality Division this week in delivering its 2019 Oklahoma Nonpoint Source (NPS) Success Stories to the Conservation Commission announced 12 new stories and three updates.

“That’s success added to success for Oklahoma, the nation’s leader in Nonpoint Source Success Stories at 84 stories since 2007,” said Shanon Phillips, Director of the OCC Water Quality Division. “The partnership among Oklahoma landowners, Conservation Districts, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment is a national leader in solving water quality problems. This success is evident where voluntary conservation programs have resulted in the removal of streams from Oklahoma’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waterbodies. The success is also evidenced by annual estimated pollutant loading reductions to Oklahoma’s waterbodies. Once again, Oklahoma is in the top five states at reducing nutrient loading to our state waterbodies.”

Phillips said she looks forward year each to discovering which water quality improvements qualify as long-term, verified successes.

“For many of these streams, the OCC and partners such as the Oklahoma Water Resources Board have been monitoring them regularly since the 1990s,” Phillips said. “USDA Farm Bill programs and other state, federal, tribal, and local conservation partnerships have invested in land protection and conservation across Oklahoma for decades.  It’s wonderful to see the fruits of those conservation programs reflected in improving water quality results, verified through our partnership with the EPA.”

Trey Lam, OCC Executive Director, said, “I continue to be amazed how Oklahoma’s conservation partners working with farmers and ranchers, clean up the water in our streams and rivers.  The Oklahoma fans of healthy streams are jumping up and down shouting “WE’RE NUMBER 1.”  Oklahoma is not just in the Top 10 for delisting polluted streams.  We lead the nation, and we have for several years.  The model built and still utilized in Oklahoma has created a Water Quality Dynasty.  Implementing the EPA 319 non-point source pollution program through small stream water monitoring combined with USDA-NRCS, OCC and Conservation District incentive programs has proven again and again the best approach.  Farmers and ranchers are comfortable working with NRCS and Conservation Districts to implement conservation practices on their land near where water quality monitoring has identified a problem.  Cooperators improve their land, and all Oklahomans benefit from cleaner water.  It’s truly a win-win situation that Oklahoma created.”

What are Nonpoint Source Success Stories?

The EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution Program is evaluated annually on whether it has produced at least 50 Nonpoint Source Success Stories, at least one per state.

A Success Story is generated when a state or territory has documented water quality improvements caused by nonpoint source pollution reductions that are sufficient to delist one or more pollutants from the state’s 303(d) list. Keep in mind, there are also categories of success stories for progress toward delisting or ecological restoration, but they don’t count toward the goal.

While the overall goal is one per state, Oklahoma’s Nonpoint Source Management Plan sets a goal of at least three NPS Success Stories per Year.

Before earning the success title 

Three things must occur before OCC considers whether a delisting qualifies as a success story.

First, a stream must stay off the list for at least two cycles. Generally this means 10 years or more worth of data. One reason, is that OCC won’t consider a story that compares a wet weather listing to a drier weather delisting.

Second, OCC will use the current assessment method on listing data to determine whether it should have been listed.

Also, OCC will consider the types and amounts of conservation practices to ascertain whether they were likely sufficient to result in the improvement.

The foundation

Monitoring is the critical foundation to success.

The Water Quality Division of OCC monitors 250 small continually flowing streams across the state.

The Agency monitors physical, chemical, and biological conditions on each site for two of every five years.

They also monitor upstream of permitted discharges, reservoirs, confluences, etc. to focus on NPS.

There is a focus on pollutants for which the state has quantitative water quality standards, which also includes nutrients.

 Also, a key factor is the funding provided by EPA 319 to do this very important work.

“The OCC staff of monitoring specialists, many of whom have been monitoring these same streams for decades, are the final voice in approving success stories,” Phillips said. “If they still have concerns about the stream, then the story may be delayed or not recognized at all.”

There are different pollutants that can lead to delisting, and a stream may be delisted for one and not another. The 84 Nonpoint Source Success Stories represent 120 pollutants delisted.

The 2019 Nonpoint Source Success Stories

This year’s success stories include five segments of the Illinois River Watershed.

“The impairments removed were E.coli or Enterococcus bacteria,” Phillips said. “Many know E. coli as a type of bacteria that can make people ill; Enterococcus can have similar effects.  High concentrations of E. coli and Enterococcus could also indicate the presence of additional types of fecal bacteria which could affect swimmers, boaters, and fisherman.”

OCC, Conservation Districts, and NRCS started working in the Illinois Watershed in the 1980s, Phillips said.

“As one of Oklahoma’s highest priority waterbodies for protection, significant resources from OCC and partners have been directed at NPS controls in the watershed since 2000,” Phillips said.

Conservation efforts on these segments focused on: Animal waste management; Streambank and riparian area protection; Grazing management and septic system upgrades.

Streams also on this year’s success story list include: Alabama Creek, Bad Creek, Buffalo Creek, Euchee Creek, Peaceable Creek, Salt Creek, Wewoka Creek, Cooper Creek, Canadian Sandy Creek and Little Wewoka Creek. Please see attached chart for impairments of each and the attached map for locations.

“It’s always rewarding to find one stream segment with lasting water quality improvement, let alone the 12 which include three legs of the Illinois River as well as Flint, Barren Fork;  Alabama; Bad; Buffalo; Euchee; Peaceable; Salt and Wewoka creeks,” Phillips said. “However, it’s equally important to see continued improvements in water quality, captured as updates to the Little Wewoka, Cooper, and Canadian Sandy Creek watersheds. Updates are made when a new pollutant is delisted from a stream with an existing success story.”

Source: Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

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