Oklahoma governor signs tough water rules

Tuesday, May 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Despite strong opposition from Arkansas officials, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating signed tough, new water pollution standards Tuesday affecting both states.

The rules restrict the level of phosphorous in Oklahoma's six designated scenic rivers to 0.037 parts per million. Arkansas is affected because the Illinois River flows from Arkansas to Oklahoma.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has called the standards unrealistic and impossible to meet without widescale business disruptions in his state.

Keating called the standards ``tough but fair.''

``This is a historic and aggressive attempt to maintain the quality of our scenic rivers,'' Keating said. ``I think these limits, with which both Oklahoma and Arkansas both must comply, are fair and attainable.''

The two states will have 10 years to fully comply with the rules.

Huckabee argues the rules will restrict growth in booming northwestern Arkansas, which has a heavy concentration of poultry operations.

He said Keating made a decision ``driven more by environmental politics than by sound science.''

``The limits being set by Oklahoma fly in the face of reason, common sense and the scientific evidence that's now available. We will continue working with Oklahoma to come to what we consider to be a more reasonable limit on phosphorus discharges.''

The governor said Arkansas would work diligently to improve water quality standards throughout the state.

Keating said he had asked Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Brian Griffin to meet as soon as possible with Huckabee and Arkansas' top environmental officials to discuss implementation of the rules.

Oklahoma officials said Arkansas must comply with the new standards under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that said upstream states are subject to downstream water quality regulations.

There have been threats of new litigation over the issue.

``I want to stress that this critical phosphorous standard was not promulgated with the malicious intent to sue Arkansas,'' Griffin said. ``Rather, this standard was scientifically derived to protect the water quality of Oklahoma's treasured Scenic Rivers and, thus, will require major changes in these watersheds irrespective of political boundaries.''

Keating, in a letter to Huckabee, said the rules are needed because voluntary restrictions had not worked.

``The voluntary 40 percent phosphorous reduction agreed upon by both states has resulted in no improvement to the Illinois River, thus it becomes incumbent upon us to take more weighty measures before these irreplaceable waters suffer irreparable impairment,'' Keating said.

Oklahoma officials said there was a significant increase in phosphorous levels in the Illinois in 2000 and 2001 after minute declines in 1998 and 1999.

They said phosphorous from sewage, animal waste and fertilizer is increasing plant life in the Illinois, reducing oxygen, creating an odor and threatening aquatic life.

Earlier this year, Huckabee warned that if Oklahoma imposed the new phosphorous standards, he would place tougher limits on chloride in the Arkansas River, which flows east from Kansas, through Oklahoma and into Arkansas.

Oklahoma officials denied Huckabee's charge that chloride from Oklahoma's petrochemical industry was polluting the river, and Arkansas officials let the matter drop.

In addition to the Illinois, the new phosphorous standards will be imposed on the Baron Fork River, Lee Creek, Little Lee Creek, Flint Creek and the Upper Mountain Fork River.