Concerns raised over a poultry operation near Oologah Lake, a Tulsa drinking water source

Thursday, February 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The stink over Tulsa's drinking water continues as state legislators scramble to regulate poultry farming.

The News on Six has learned there are new chicken houses opening near another Tulsa water source, this as Tulsa sues six poultry companies and the town of Decatur, Arkansas. The lawsuit seeks a court order to stop poultry producers from spreading chicken litter on land where the city's water supply could be affected.

News on Six reporter Tami Marler says Lakes Eucha, Spavinaw and Oologah provide water for Tulsans. Eucha and Spavinaw have high phosphorous levels that city leaders attribute to poultry farms in the watershed. We got a call from a viewer concerned about another of Tulsa's water supplies, Oologah Lake.

They're popping up all over Eastern Oklahoma, creating controversy wherever they go. "We're the ones that elect you and we're the ones that tell you we don't want the damn thing." Residents in the town of Narcissa protested a chicken house they say threatened their water supply. The Governor responded by creating emergency rules that prohibit poultry operations within a 100-year floodplain or within 300 feet of a body of water.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture approved a new poultry farm near Oologah about a week before the rules went into effect. The farm owner wouldn't talk with us, but Oklahoma Department of Agriculture documents show he plans to house 120,000 chickens. He's contracted with Simmons Foods - one of the companies Tulsa is suing over pollution at Eucha and Spavinaw. Documents show the chickens will produce nearly 900 tons of litter a year; the farmer plans to spread the bulk of it over land within the Oologah watershed.

The viewer who contacted says he's concerned about runoff from the chicken litter affecting Tulsa's water supply. "Oologah Lake is about half their water supply so they have a real need to take a long-term look at their water supply lakes." Steve Nolen with the US Army Corps of Engineers is studying the water quality at Lake Oologah. One study reveals higher-than-normal phosphorous levels, which feed algae and can affect water quality. "As you know, there are waters in this state that are highly impacted by confined animal feeding operations."

The Corps isn't ready to say that chickens are affecting the water quality at Oologah. But state legislators are concerned enough to come up with two new pieces of legislation. State Senator Scott Pruitt of Tulsa, "The goal is to make sure that poultry operations in Oklahoma go on as they should; we want poultry operations to occur, but we want them to occur in an environmentally safe way that doesn't threaten the water quality of northeast Oklahoma."

When we contacted city officials in Tulsa, they didn't know about this operation being so close to the watershed. People in Rogers County didn't know about it; people with the Corps didn't know about it; only the Department of Agriculture knew about it; and they didn't know it was in the watershed. Who has a right to know? Well, first and foremost the citizens do. "But I think it's very important that each of the municipalities and the state government need to be aware of what's going on from a poultry standpoint."

Senator Pruitt says the state's tightening of regulations has drawn a lot of criticism from lobbyists for the poultry industry. He says they're especially fighting new rules that push operations away from water sources.

In Lake Eucha/Spavinaw areas - where phosphorous levels have seriously affected Tulsa's water supply - only one poultry farmer has been sited for over-application of litter.