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Conservationists hoping Governor will sign off on tougher water standards

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For years, conservationists have accused the poultry industry of polluting lakes and streams with phosphorous from chicken waste runoff.

Too much phosphorous creates algae, which clouds the water. But until Tuesday, no one was saying exactly "how" much is too much. Now someone has. And as News on Six reporter Steve Berg tells us, conservation groups want the new standard enforced.

Gerald Hilsher remembers when Lake Tenkiller was one of the top scuba diving lakes in the state, when you could see your toes under the water. “Now the water is so dirty you can't see your hands underwater." Hilsher's Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission is just one of the groups that met Wednesday in Tulsa to encourage the legislature and the governor to approve the new water quality standard set by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

They've set a limit on phosphorous of .037 milligrams per liter. They say the level in the Illinois River that feeds Tenkiller is twice that. They're tiny fractions, but they mean a lot, because "before" no one set a numeric standard. "Before" they say the standard was simply the vague statement, "no further degradation." "Well that's y'know a relative standard, it's harder to measure than to say well our numeric standard is .037, that's what you've got to meet."

Conservations say having an actual number will make it easier to enforce the standard legally, if it comes to that. "Either a prohibition of applying chicken litter within a certain radius of the river of perhaps a total ban, or something that we just haven't seen yet.”

Conservationists say approving the standard should be a no-brainer for lawmakers and the governor. They say its time the state's Scenic Rivers Act, passed 30 years ago, lived up to its name. "If what you want is to instead have a not quite nearly so scenic river then we ought to change the title of the act."

Of course, chicken farmers would not be the only ones subject to the new standard. That includes any source of phosphorous, including city water treatment systems along the river.

Officials say it will be years before they figure out exactly how to implement and enforce the standard.
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