States entrenched in positions, Oklahoma official says
By Scott F. Davis
The Morning News/NWAonline.net email@example.com
FAYETTEVILLE -- The water-quality debate has focused mainly on Oklahoma's recently adopted water-quality standards, but the "sticking point" is finding common ground on how much litter can be applied on the land.
About 50 officials of Arkansas and Oklahoma state agencies, poultry companies and others met behind closed doors Wednesday at the Clarion Inn, but they did not agree on a common method of determining application rates.
Both sides previously agreed that both states should agree on a common method to ensure fairness.
"The main sticking point is finding an appropriate method to measure litter application (rates)," said Morril Harriman, the executive director of The Poultry Federation. "At times, (Wednesday's meeting) was tense."
Ed Fite, the administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, said there was "some firm entrenchment" on both sides concerning application rates for litter.
"I'm holding out hope. We're down to the nuts and bolts," Fite said.
Essentially, each state likes its system the best and wants the other side to adopt it, officials said. The other key disagreement is that Oklahoma wants Arkansas to agree on a total amount of phosphorus that leaves the state each year in streams -- something Arkansas officials said they are unwilling to do at this time.
Both sides realize that some nutrients must ultimately be removed from watersheds such as the Illinois River, but this can be determined only after they decide how much litter can continue to be used as fertilizer.
Officials agreed that scientists from the University of Arkansas and Oklahoma State University should meet with a mediator to develop a common phosphorus index to determine application rates, said Randy Young, the director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
The morning session included educational presentations to explain the systems in each states. The afternoon session included a discussion of water-quality data gathered by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, followed by a discussion seeking common ground on poultry guidelines.
Young explained that the commission started in 1992 developing strategies to reduce nutrients in streams caused by non-point sources, such as runoff from poultry operations.
Instead of developing state regulations, the commission successfully convinced poultry companies to start requiring poultry growers to develop comprehensive nutrient-management plans, which serve as the basis for how much poultry litter can be applied to the land, Young explained.
The commission also provided resources to local National Resources Conservation Service districts to develop these plans for growers, he said. The plans were initially nitrogen-based, but officials soon learned that the amount of phosphorus was a more critical factor, Young said.
The phosphorus index was developed and is currently the method used in the state, he said. The index considers several factors, such as the slope of the land, its proximity to streams, the uses of the pasture and several other factors to determine appropriate application rates.
Oklahoma is using an "interim phosphorus index," which produces guidelines that are driven mainly by the results of soil samples taken on land where litter will be applied, he explained.
Oklahoma requires the registration of poultry operators, the certification of those who apply the litter and allows for inspections and fines for violators.
Young said that the commission has proposed statewide regulations for targeted watersheds, including the registration of growers and certification of people who apply the litter and of members of the National Resources Conservation Service staff who develop the comprehensive nutrient-management plans.
John Elrod, an attorney representing Simmons Foods, said that one of the challenges facing negotiators Wednesday is that there are "two different exceptions of the (Illinois) River."
The goal of a series of meetings on these issues is to develop a written agreement between the two states solving an ongoing dispute about water quality in the Illinois River, which flows out of Arkansas and into Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has adopted an in-stream, numeric standard on phosphorus of 0.037 parts-per-million for its scenic rivers, including the Illinois. Led by Gov. Mike Huckabee, Arkansas officials have called this limit unrealistic and unattainable.
A 1992 Supreme Court ruling found that an upstream state can be required to meet at the state line the water-quality standards of a downstream state.