Study update says Lake Eucha aging faster than hoped

Thursday, December 16th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority wanting an update on the declining state of Lake Eucha heard the waterway is growing older at a faster rate than originally thought. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board on Wednesday presented the findings, which said an overload of nutrients, specifically phosphorus, is causing an excessive acceleration of algae growth in the lake which feeds into one of Tulsa's main drinking water sources.

"Lake Eucha is not dead, but it's definitely not as new and pristine as it once was," said Derek Smithee, chief of water quality with the water board. "It also is aging a bit faster than we had hoped it would." Lake Eucha, located near Jay in northeastern Oklahoma, feeds Lake Spavinaw, from which Tulsa draws drinking water for about 250,000 customers. Lake Oologah provides the other half of the city's water supply.

A year of data analysis remains before the study will be complete, but the utility authority wanted an update to see if there were remedial measures that could address chronic taste and odor problems associated with the lake's water. "What I'm most interested in from a treatment standpoint is what opportunities exist right now as it relates to the lake operation," Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage, a TMUA board member, said. "How do we manage this change that is occurring while we're working on all the other strategies going on in the watershed?"

A 1997 Clean Lakes Study by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission concluded that Lake Eucha was being affected by massive algae growth caused by an overload of nutrients. The study linked the nutrient overload to poultry production in the watershed. Phosphorus does not render the water a health risk, but the taste and odor problems it does cause are costly for the city to treat. Last year, the city spent $750,000 on chemicals alone.

For decades poultry farmers have been spreading dry chicken litter, concentrated with nitrogen and phosphorus, on pasture as fertilizer. Nutrients from the waste make their way to streams through runoff and groundwater. Sixty percent of the lake's watershed is located in Arkansas, where there has been a 16 percent increase in the number of chickens since an inventory was taken in 1993.

The 1997 state Conservation Commission study triggered not only legislation regulating the disposal of poultry waste in sensitive watersheds, but a host of scientific initiatives in the Lake Eucha watershed. This current study by the Water Resources Board is only one of several in the watershed. "Since the OCC report came out, there have been efforts every step of the way to challenge the validity of the problem," Ms. Savage said. "We still have (a poultry) industry that its spokesman says, `Excuse me, there is nothing to support the fact that runoff is a problem in the watershed.' "

The Water Resources Board study will not determine the specific source of the phosphorus but will learn where the nutrient is entering the water, said Paul Koenig, environmental specialist for the board. The goals of the study are to establish a relationship between phosphorus concentrations and algae growth, develop a nutrient goal to control algae, review lake management methods and recommend along-term water quality monitoring plan for the lakes.