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Tulsa promises water quality monitoring in Zink Lake after completion of nearby construction project

The Arkansas River, with Zink Dam visible.
City of Tulsa
Zink Dam will create a small lake near the Gathering Place in Tulsa.

As Tulsa nears the completion of a low-water dam, residents have voiced concern about water quality in the Arkansas River. In an update about the dam’s construction, city officials said they’ll be monitoring water quality in the new Zink Lake, but not until spring of next year.

The $48 million Zink Dam project will create a small lake the city hopes people will spend time on and around.

But some advocates have questioned whether the water is clean enough for recreation — that segment of the Arkansas River is listed as impaired for having too much of the heavy metal cadmium. Those standards are intended to ensure waterways are fishable and swimmable. Too much cadmium can harm wildlife and contribute to kidney problems and low bone density in people.

“There has never ever been any testing in the river that has ever shown that it’s going to meet the standards,” said Charles Pratt, a retired U.S. Army Corps engineer, at a Tulsa Council Public Works Committee meeting on August 2nd.

In an update for that committee four weeks later, engineer Brooke Caviness said Tulsa will be able to test the water quality after the nearby HollyFrontier Sinclair Refinery finishes a streambank stabilization project.

“We can't start impounding water into the lake until that project is complete because it would impact their construction,” Caviness said. “So as soon as that's complete, which we’re anticipating to happen in March, we will be able to impound water, have water in the lake, and start our water quality testing.”

That refinery is one entity that has a permit to discharge wastewater into the river as long as it meets quality standards. There are about 20 discharge permits held by refineries, manufacturers and municipal wastewater treatment plants between Keystone Dam and Zink Dam.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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