Oklahoma City/ The recent rash of water quality alerts in Oklahoma, including blooms of blue-green algae and increased levels of E coli bacteria in certain lakes shows the need for additional resources dedicated to addressing nonpoint source pollution in water according to Joe Parker, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
In addition, Parker said that these events also help highlight the folly of recent actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) including cuts made to federal funding to control nonpoint source pollution in water and the rejection in 2008 of a water quality management plan for the Grand Lake Watershed. It also shows the challenges that could be created by proposed cuts to Farm Bill Conservation programs.
“Events can speak louder than words,” Parker said. “For months now we have been expressing our dismay at the cut by EPA to the Clean Water Act section 319 program (319), the primary fund that we use to control nonpoint source pollution in water. We also were disappointed when the EPA rejected the watershed plan for the Grand Lake Watershed some time back and we are concerned about what could happen to our efforts if we see some of the cuts proposed to federal conservation funding become law. We talk and talk about the water quality challenges we are facing and what these cuts could mean but I guess it takes headlines about lakes closing before the message hits home.”
In early July, a bloom of blue-green algae in Northeast Oklahoma’s Grand Lake resulted in warnings for visitors to avoid swimming in the lake over the 4th of July weekend. Later that same month an increase in E coli bacteria in parts of Lake Arcadia in Central Oklahoma was sighted as the reason for closing several beach areas on that water body. This past week blue-green algae blooms were detected in Fort Gibson Lake and Keystone Lake with another possible bloom in Lake Tenkiller. Parker said that these events show that while Oklahoma has made great strides in the area of water quality protection, now is not the time to abandon water quality work in the name of balancing the federal budget.
“In late May the Oklahoma Conservation Commission was notified that roughly 20% of the funds it receives through the 319 program would be cut,” Parker said. “These are the funds we use to partner with landowners to undertake best management practices on land in priority watersheds. These cuts would also reduce the funds used by the Conservation Commission to monitor whether or not these practices are actually working and resulting in reductions of nutrients, bacteria and sediment. Using these dollars in partnership with USDA Farm Bill Conservation programs including help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Oklahoma has been able to show reductions of nutrients as high as 70% in some watersheds. Now, both the 319 funds and USDA Conservation programs are on the chopping block. These recent water quality events show why that’s a bad idea.”
In addition to funding, Parker also said that the EPA should re-examine the Watershed Management Plan that was developed by the Grand Lake Watershed Alliance Foundation in cooperation with Local Conservation Districts and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to address water quality issues in the Grand Lake system which also includes Fort Gibson Lake. This plan was advanced to EPA in 2008 and was rejected primarily due to concerns over the size of the Grand Lake Watershed, an issue that Parker said seems to be of little concern to EPA when talking about water in other areas of the country.
“While the Grand Lake Watershed is a big area, including parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas EPA is working on the Mississippi River Watershed, which is about one-third of the country and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which is much bigger than the area we are talking about here,” Parker said. “It’s true that Oklahoma only makes up 10% of the watershed effecting Grand Lake, but that shouldn’t discount the work that went into this plan nor should it keep EPA from bringing the states together to follow through on the work we have started here in Oklahoma.”
Regardless of what the EPA does or what happens to federal dollars, Parker said that Oklahoma’s Conservation Partnership will continue the work it has started in this important watershed to address nonpoint source pollution.
“The local Conservation Districts, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and our Federal Partners at USDA NRCS are already working with farmers, ranchers and other landowners to address agriculture’s contribution to the water quality challenges in Grand Lake,” Parker said. “We will continue to do what we can with the resources at our disposal to partner with landowners to address nutrients, bacteria and sediment in this and other watersheds. I just hope that these recent water quality events show our policy makers why conservation and water quality funding is so important.”