Oklahoma offers water-quality plan

Wednesday, September 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) _ Officials in Oklahoma have offered a settlement proposal in the fight over water quality standards to northwest Arkansas communities.

The states have a long-running dispute over water quality in four of Oklahoma's scenic rivers that first run through Arkansas.

Arkansas officials argue the stricter phosphorus limit sought by Oklahoma, at 0.037 milligrams per liter, would harm the booming economy in northwest Arkansas.

Oklahoma officials say phosphorus degrades the rivers and threatens aquatic life.

Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Miles Tolbert sent a letter last week to the mayors of Siloam Springs, Springdale, Fayetteville, Bentonville and Rogers.

The settlement would allow for growth of the region's biggest wastewater plants, Arkansas officials said. Wastewater is just part of the dispute.

Officials with the states are working to reach an agreement through mediators with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The issues could be discussed at a meeting next week of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission.

In the settlement proposal, Tolbert asks the five cities to meet a phosphorus limit of 1 milligram per liter in wastewater plant discharge.

Mayors in those cities last year informally agreed to such a limit when they complete new or expanded wastewater plants.

The Oklahoma proposal allows for more growth by basing the limit on expanded or new plants, said J.D. Strong, director of environmental affairs in Tolbert's office.

Oklahoma previously wanted to base the limit on the cities' current plant capacities, Strong said.

Oklahoma's new proposal may ease northwest Arkansas' concerns about stifling economic growth, said Randy Young, director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

``What the cities are looking for is room for growth,'' Young said. ``The language in this letter accomplishes that.''

The proposal also would free cities of liability if they follow its provisions, Young said.