Planning group examines issues facing Illinois River waters | New

SILOAM SPRINGS, Arkansas — Millions of chickens and their litter have long been the focus of Oklahomans concerned about the water quality of the Illinois River, but it faces another growing threat — millions of people.

Illinois River Watershed Partnership Executive Director Leif Kindberg voiced his concerns Tuesday, Oct. 11, to about 35 people at the first public meeting to revamp Illinois’ old watershed management plan. 10 years. A number similar to listening via Zoom.

Kindberg, as well as Arkansas Natural Resources Commission Water Quality Division Director Tate Wentz, Arkansas Conservation Commission Water Quality Division Director Oklahoma, Shanon Phillips, and water resources engineer Philip Massirer of FTN Associates took a few hours to figure out where the voluntary efforts to protect the river have been, and some key challenges in a new process of planning.

Kindberg laid out two major changes in the watershed that require priorities that no one can ignore.

The population of some northwestern Arkansas counties has increased by about 20% over the past decade and the population as a whole is expected to double, with 1 million additional souls by 2045, it said. -he declares.

Population growth and development “have had significant implications for land cover,” Kindberg said.

More roofs, walkways and streets mean more of what is called “impermeable surface cover” when it comes to precipitation.

Rainfall over the past decade has averaged 10.5 inches above the historical average, he said. This has led to higher flows in the river, more flash flooding, erosion, debris dams, and more turbidity, pollution, and loss of riverbanks.

He said areas in northwest Arkansas that include 50% to 79% impervious surfaces nearly doubled with a 93% increase between 2001 and 2019. Areas with 80% to 100% impervious surfaces have increased by 78% during the same period.

“We have a rapidly changing watershed that is becoming, especially in the headwaters, significantly impermeable,” he said. “This has real implications for how we move forward with management considerations and watershed management over the next 10 years or so and beyond.”

Wentz said easily 70% of the correspondence he receives from Arkansas landowners along the river these days includes inquiries about bank erosion and how to stop it.

These factors led Kindberg to list among the priorities of the new 10-year plan a focus on pollution from stormwater and nonpoint sources – when precipitation carries pollutants into rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes. Priorities should include reducing total phosphorus levels at the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, reducing bacteria and sediment, encouraging sewer system improvements, establishing or protecting of riparian buffer zones and the integration of the two states’ water quality monitoring networks, he said.

However, the listings and concerns of officials at the meeting were just a kickoff. The creation of the new plan will take 12 to 16 months and will include a series of public meetings allowing stakeholders to list their own priorities. A schedule of meeting times and agendas for 2023 is expected to be released before the new year. The next public meeting will take place in January.

Phillips began his presentation by asking the Arkansans and Oklahomans in the room to stand, then encouraged participation from all corners.

“What I would challenge all of us going forward is that we need to start thinking of ourselves as representing the Illinois River watershed instead of each state,” Phillips said.

She said 30 years of work in the watershed has shown her that the more people come together on the challenges facing the watershed – even when they disagree – the more commonalities they find and the more they progress.

Kindberg and Phillips listed several programs and millions of dollars of improvement projects completed in the watershed over the past 20 years, though much of the watershed remains listed as threatened or impaired under federal 303 guidelines. (d) that indicate whether the water is suitable for alcohol or human contact.

Program officials have listed hundreds of miles of riparian habitat reclamation, hundreds of miles of fencing and other agricultural projects to reduce livestock impacts not only along the river and streams, but also connected drainages of all sizes. Improved nutrient management plans have helped, as have poultry litter export programs, stormwater management and millions of dollars allocated to conservation easements and other projects – including the replacing and repairing hundreds of residential septic tanks with grants and interest-free loans.

Youth and adult education programs and outreach have been critical because the programs that accompany the watershed plan require voluntary compliance, Phillips said. Stakeholders in the agriculture and business sectors of the equation need to know that the programs are not too burdensome and can actually improve operations. They need to see that adopting these practices will keep their bankers as happy as flow banks.

Phillips said the involvement of stakeholders, from avid floaters and anglers to municipalities and industrial interests, has been essential in past management plan efforts and will continue to be.

“We’re going to be more efficient and people will be more helpful if they’re here in person to talk about their recommendations,” she said. “They are welcome to contact us about these recommendations, but the reason we all come together… is because we come to better resolutions when we can talk about them. So if you know people who are worried about things happening in the watershed, or things they see, encourage them to get involved in this process.

Kelly Bostian is a freelance writer working for the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and raising awareness about conservation issues facing Oklahomans.