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Water Expert Says Communities Can Do More For Illinois River

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- In the border dispute between Oklahoma and Arkansas over the water quality of the Illinois River, a University of Arkansas expert says Arkansas communities have made significant strides but can do more.

The Arkansas Water Resources Center says water quality monitoring on the river and its tributary, the Osage Creek, shows improvement in reducing the levels of phosphorus coming from local municipal sewage treatment plants.

While encouraging, center Director Marc Nelson says Benton County and neighboring Washington County can do more to further reduce the levels to meet the standards -- 0.037 milligrams of phosphorus per liter -- for Oklahoma's scenic rivers.

"It's highly commendable that the wastewater treatment plants have cleaned up their discharges dramatically," Nelson said. "It's made Oklahoma happy, but not quite happy enough."

Nelson said a watershed management plan is needed that includes steps to reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff that gets into the watershed.

The nonprofit Illinois River Watershed Partnership has begun a public awareness campaign to reduce the amount of unwanted compounds running off into the watershed. Partnership member Katie Teague said the group received a $300,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to protect the river.

"The bottom line goal is that we improve water quality in the area and help the urban population learn about the watershed," Teague said.

Teague said the group is encouraging property owners to conduct soil tests before applying fertilizers. Last year, landscapers were required to test their customers' soil before applying the chemicals.

The "Dirty Minded?" campaign has included television and print advertising, bright green bumper stickers and a billboard on Interstate 540 that say "Dirty Minded? You should be. Get your soil tested."

The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service does free soil testing.

Residents also are urged to protect the watershed by keeping fall leaves out of landfills, building rain gardens and disposing of pet waste properly.

The fate of the watershed also is tied up in a legal dispute. The state of Oklahoma sued 13 poultry companies in 2005, including Tyson Foods Inc. at Springdale, alleging the companies were legally responsible for the handling and disposal of poultry waste that has damaged part of the Illinois River watershed in Oklahoma.

This month, a federal judge barred the state of Arkansas from intervening in the lawsuit and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he doesn't expect to appeal the ruling.

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