Federal water rule violations are widespread in Oklahoma

Thursday, August 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A new study indicates that more than one-third of Oklahoma's largest industrial, municipal and federal facilities were out of compliance with their federal Clean Water Act permits during a 15-month period.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in connection with local Sierra Club chapters, revealed that 34.4 percent of Oklahoma's largest public and private-sector facilities were out of compliance at some time during the period.

Oklahoma ranks ninth among the 48 contiguous states in the percentage of major municipal facilities that are in significant noncompliance with the federal Clean Water Act, said Jeannine Hale, director of the Sierra Club's Oklahoma Conservation Office.

``With one in three facilities breaking the law, it is outrageous that the Bush administration is proposing to slash enforcement budgets,'' Hale said.

She said the list of violators in Oklahoma includes Okmulgee, Poteau, Stillwater, Tulsa, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Hugo, Miami, Vinita and Oklahoma City. Many of the violations involve wastewater discharges.

Luke Metzger, an official with the Public Interest Research Group, said Tulsa was cited for only one violation when the Lower Bird Creek sewage treatment plant exceeded its allowable pollutant release level.

The violation in April and May this year was caused by an excess of algae in an open discharge line. The line later was enclosed, solving the problem.

Although most public attention in Oklahoma has been focused on corporate hog and poultry operations as primary sources of water pollution, various studies have shown that cities and towns also are major contributors.

``How many parents want their children swimming in wastewater, much less wastewater from a facility in violation of its permit?'' Hale asked.

``Too many people don't realize that many of our streams and lakes have wastewater discharges going into them, sometimes not far from public beaches, and often these same lakes and streams are our source of drinking water,'' she said.

Despite the poor performance by municipalities, Oklahoma wasn't one of the 10 worst states in significant noncompliance, which were Texas, Ohio, New York, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

According to the most recent Toxic Release Inventory, more than 7 billion tons of toxic chemicals were released into the national environment during 2000, with 260 million pounds winding up in waterways, the Sierra Club report states.

It recommends that the problem be addressed by stricter enforcement, greater public access to information and the removal of obstacles to residents' lawsuits against polluters, including the federal government.