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Streams Removed from Impaired Waters List Because of Better Farming


The drought goes on, and resources are strained, but there is some positive news to report about Oklahoma’s water.

Nine streams and creeks are coming off the federal government’s list of impaired waters, and it’s partly because farmers and ranchers are changing the way they grow crops and raise livestock and reduced harmful runoff.  StateImpact's Logan Layden reports.

The streams are in a swath from north-central to southeast Oklahoma, and were considered impaired because of high turbidity — the amount of sediment in the water.

At a press conference at the Oklahoma Capitol, Gary O’Neill with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Resource Conservation Service, says credit goes to state, federal and private partnerships between groups like the USDA and state conservation commissions that help educate landowners and share some of the costs, but that it’s farmers and ranchers actually doing the work to make voluntary changes.

“And the things we’re looking at, is like, cover crops on cropland, reducing tillage, nutrient management, working with ranchers on better grazing production — rotational grazing,” O’Neill says.

Oklahoma already has 37 waterways the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers to be ‘success stories‘ when it comes to water quality improvement. It’s a start, but there are still more than 600 impaired bodies of water in Oklahoma, including more than 8,000 miles of impaired streams, creeks and rivers, data from the Department of Environmental Quality show.

Shanon Phillips, director of the water quality division of the state conservation commission, says drought can actually lower turbidity in waterways because of a lack of runoff, but that drought can dirty water in other ways.

“Because there’s less runoff happening, it actually concentrates pollutants in streams,” Phillips says. “Also, typically, since the water is getting refreshed less often we have problems with other pollutants.”

She says the nine streams were de-listed using data from before the current drought began to verify it was human intervention that led to the improvements.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations.  Find more information at StateImpact.npr.org/Oklahoma.

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
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