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Partnership to help protect water quality praised by recent EPA report


Oklahoma efforts to address non-point source pollution through voluntary, locally-led means has been singled out for praise by the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent report on agriculture activity in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico, according to Trey Lam, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Lam said the report once again shows the willingness of farmers, ranchers and other landowners to protect our natural resources.

"We are extremely proud of this work highlighted for praise by the EPA," Lam said. "This report helps show how, when given the chance and when given technical and financial help from the state and federal governments, Oklahoma ag producers will answer the call to protect our environment."

According to Lam, the EPA Region 6 Report on Agriculture highlighted efforts in three priority watersheds in Oklahoma: the Fort Cobb watershed and Arkansas River watershed in Western Oklahoma, and the Illinois River watershed in Eastern Oklahoma. In the report, EPA praised the reduction in nutrients, pesticide levels, and soil particles in these watersheds, highlighting the work of landowners, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and local conservation districts to address water quality issues through cooperative, voluntary means.

"It's always exciting when someone from outside production agriculture recognizes the good stewardship being practiced through conservation efforts. That is just want the EPA did," Lam said.

The report comes on the heels of recent data showing additional water quality success in the Eucha-Spavinaw watershed and the Illinois River watershed. Recent findings made by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and certified by the EPA show a reduction of 66 percent of phosphorus loading levels in the Beatty Creek sub-watershed of the Eucha-Spavinaw watershed and a phosphorus loading reduction of 71 percent in the Peacheater Creek sub-watershed of the Illinois River, reductions attributable to voluntary cost-share efforts made by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts and NRCS through programs such as EPA Clean Water Act Section 319, the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Oklahoma Conservation Cost-Share Program. These programs work by having the government share the cost with landowners to install best management practices, helping offset the cost to the landowner in installing the practices necessary to address water quality issues. Technical assistance for the programs is also provided by NRCS and Conservation Commission staff to help landowners properly design and install these improvements.

According to Clay Pope, executive director of the OACD, this is the same approach used in the past to address other natural resource concerns, most notably, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

"During the Great Depression, the government decided to work cooperatively with landowners to roll back the tide of dust choking our nation," Pope said. "This approach worked so well that, even though we have recently seen years drier than those in the 'dirty thirties,' we have not see the return of the massive dust storms. These latest water quality numbers show that we can use this old approach born in the New Deal to address these modern natural resource challenges. By working cooperatively with landowners, we can get a handle on these issues and we are proud to be part of that solution."

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