EFFORTS to reduce and remove poultry litter waste within the Illinois River Watershed are not succeeding, according to an annual report published by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.
The report -- covering the 12-month period between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012 -- says poultry waste produced at poultry farms within the watershed increased 9.78% from the previous 12 months.
The report adds that poultry producers and other farmers decreased the application of poultry waste to their fields by 0.08% and increased the exportation of that waste from the watershed to other locations by 11.59%.
Of the amount exported, 65% went to unspecified locations in Oklahoma, and 65% went to unspecified locations outside the state, the report says.
The Illinois River Watershed is a 1 million-acre ecosystem in northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas, although the report covered just the Oklahoma side of the region.
Clean water activists both applauded and criticized the report.
Save the Illinois River (STIR) president Denise Deason-Toyne said it's "highly laudable" that a substantial amount of the waste is being removed from the watershed, "but we have no information on where it is going." She expressed a concern that it may be going into other watersheds.
STIR founder Eric Brocksmith said "it's a relief that this much poultry waste is (being) removed" from the watershed, but he still would prefer an outright, permanent ban on its application in the watershed.
The watershed was at the center of a 2005 lawsuit brought by Oklahoma that charged Arkansas poultry companies' contract growers in the region with debilitating the waters with poultry waste runoff after the waste was applied to fields (Feedstuffs, June 20, 2005).
Oklahoma said the Arkansas companies were responsible for their growers' practices.
The case finally went to trial in 2009 and was concluded in early 2010 (Feedstuffs, Jan. 25, 2010). It was heard by Judge Gregory K. Frizzell in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, but he has never ruled on the matter.
The attorneys general of Arkansas and Oklahoma subsequently negotiated a plan to conduct a comprehensive, three-year study to assess phosphorus levels in the Illinois River, for which the watershed was named (Feedstuffs, March 4).
The study will determine the amount of phosphorus the river can handle without being detrimental to water quality, and both states have agreed to abide by the results.