New monitoring data from the Grand Lake Watershed shows that the efforts undertaken by farmers, ranchers and other landowners to address non-point source pollution through best management practices are starting to bear fruit according to Joe Parker, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).  

Parker said this initial success shows once again that voluntary, locally-led conservation works.

 “We are proud to see that the work that has been done on the ground is resulting in this initial reduction in nutrients and bacteria in the Grand Lake Watershed,” Parker said.  “The fact that this is being done, not through regulations, but through voluntary, locally-led, cooperative efforts designed to address the problem while protecting private property rights shows we can work together to address this critical issue.”

According to Parker, four years ago the Oklahoma Conservation Commission in cooperation with local conservation districts and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) began working on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act Section 319 (319) program in the Honey Creek sub-watershed of the Grand Lake Watershed.  During this period, 86 landowners installed conservation improvements on their land covering over 49 percent of the sub-watershed.

 Producers installed practices ranging from improved pasture management and poultry litter handling to fencing off riparian areas next to streams and establishing alternative watering systems to keep livestock out of the water.

 In addition, staff from the Conservation Commission began a continuous in-stream monitoring program to determine the effects these and other practices were having on the quality of the water.

 Analysis of the data collected over this period has now shown that these efforts resulted in a reduction of between 10 percent and 15 percent of the watershed’s total phosphorus load and a reduction of bacteria loading of roughly 40 percent.  According to Parker, these numbers are right in line with the reduction numbers that Oklahoma has seen early on in similar water quality projects.

Good numbers

“We are very pleased with these numbers, not just because of what they show today, but what they promise to show in the future,” Parker said.  “We are only in the second year of post-implementation monitoring on these practices, but if you look at these numbers and compare them with the results we have seen in other areas of the state, they are right where they should be. 

“An example would be the Beaty Creek sub-watershed of the Eucha-Spavinaw Watershed.  In the second year of post-implementation monitoring on that project we saw numbers similar to these and as time went on we began to see reductions as high as 80 percent in nitrogen and 66 percent in phosphorus.  Based on what these numbers in Honey Creek are showing, we feel pretty good that similar high levels of reduction of non-point source pollution in this area will happen as the effects of the work the farmers and ranchers have done on their land matures.”

Parker said he is hopeful more work can be done in the Grand Lake watershed.  Funding, however, is a limiting factor.

“Every time the Conservation partnership in Oklahoma has undertaken a 319 project like the one we’re working on in the Grand Lake Watershed we have run out of money before we ran out of landowners who were willing to help address the problem and this project is no exception,” Parker said.  “We are hopeful that additional funds will be available to cost-share with even more agriculture producers and other landowners to help address water quality issues in this important watershed. 

“The results we’ve seen in other parts of Oklahoma and that we’re now seeing in this part of the Grand Lake Watershed show that you can address water quality just like we addressed the dust bowl—through voluntary, locally-led, cooperative efforts.  We are proud of the work that is being done to protect our water and we hope we can keep these efforts moving forward.”