KGOU

Illinois RIver

Trout Unlimited's Scott Hood prepares to release this small trout he caught during the group's fishing trip to the Lower Illinois River near the Lake Tenkiller dam in eastern Oklahoma.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

State Question 777 — also known as ‘right-to-farm’ — would give agricultural producers in Oklahoma the constitutional right to raise livestock and grow crops without interference from future regulations by the state Legislature, without a compelling state interest.

Opposition to the state question comes from multiple sources, but a diverse coalition urging a ‘no’ vote is united by a shared concern: water.

 

Ed Fite, executive director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, stands next to a mountain of life vests at one of the resorts on the Illinois River.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Come July 1, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission will be no more.

Gov. Mary Fallin on May 11 signed a bill disbanding the small state agency, transferring its mission — and employees — to the Grand River Dam Authority, which now takes on the Commission’s role of keeping Oklahoma’s six scenic rivers clean and safe for tourists.

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and audience members listen to a presentation on right-to-farm at the April 19 meeting in Tahlequah, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Budget cuts and the death of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission were the thrust of mid-April’s regular meeting of the OSRC. But the real fireworks were around State Question 777, which you’ve probably heard referred to as ‘right-to-farm. What you probably haven’t heard it called yet is “State Question 666.”

Grand River Dam Authority CEO Dan Sullivan speaking to the April meeting of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission is a small agency with a big job: Police the Illinois River and protect six of the state’s most delicate waterways from pollution. But budget cuts have forced the commission to plan  for its own death.

Save the Illinois River President Denise Deason-Toyne at No Head Hollow public access point on the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma could become a right-to-farm state if voters approve State Question 777 this November. But opponents are gearing up for a legal fight to keep the issue off the ballot.

Flooding along the Illinois River on U.S. Highway 62 near Tahlequah.
Amanda Clinton / Twitter

Flooding December 26-28 caps off a year that saw the Illinois River damaged by extreme rainfall time after time as Oklahoma’s five-year drought gave way to apowerful El Niño that’s been bringing strong storm systems through the state since May 2015.

A group of Tulsa bartenders prepare for a day on the Illinois River at Diamondhead Resort near Tahlequah, Okla. in 2014.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is part one of StateImpact Oklahoma’s four-part series on the history of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the threats they face. 

The six eastern Oklahoma waterways classified as scenic rivers are each examples of the pristine beauty of that part of the state. They’re also tourist magnets. Even on a Monday morning, rowdy Tulsans pile into a bus at Diamondhead Resort and rumble toward the nearest access point into the Illinois River.

Ed Brocksmith, co-founder of the advocacy group Save the Illinois River, says clearer water doesn't mean the poultry industry should be off the hook.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Former State Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas poultry industry in 2005.

His claim: Chicken waste was polluting the Illinois River with phosphorous. Arguments ended in 2009. Since then: nothing. The judge still hasn’t ruled.

Conservaton Commission

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has appointed Conservation Commission Water Quality Division Director Shanon Phillips as one of three representatives from the state on a joint committee with Arkansas to review the phosphorus water quality standard for the Illinois River.

Schlüsselbein2007 / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says a limit on phosphorus concentrations in the Illinois River in Oklahoma was "unfairly calculated" when it was set a year ago.

So, McDaniel said Wednesday that Arkansas entities will pay for a new $600,000 study to work out a more scientific and reasonable limit.

The Illinois is designated a scenic river in Oklahoma, but officials there say runoff from poultry operations in Arkansas has harmed the water quality in the river, which begins in Arkansas and flows into Oklahoma.