Voluntary conservation practices place Oklahoma among the water quality elite for another year. Farmers, ranchers and other landowners have helped remove nine more streams from Oklahoma’s 303(d) list of impaired streams. These streams are candidates to join 37 other EPA-recognized water quality success stories, for which Oklahoma ranks second in the nation.

The nine streams located in Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Garfield, Grant, Kay, Logan, McIntosh, Osage, and Pontotoc counties have been removed from the impaired streams list for marked reductions in turbidity, the amount of sediment suspended in water.

“Water quality monitoring data for these EPA success story candidates show improvements attributed to voluntary conservation practices. We have a strong partnership between agriculture producers, local conservation districts, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to thank for that,” said Shanon Phillips, OCC Water Quality Division director.

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Because drought naturally reduces turbidity, these streams were delisted using pre-drought data from 2004-2009. Data from subsequent years continue to support improvements as a result of conservation practices such as fencing-off stream banks to restrict livestock incursion and eliminating field tillage to reduce chemical and soil runoff into streams.

Drought effect

Maintaining these practices is particularly important during drought because less frequent rainfall can affect water quality. Existing pollutants in the water become more concentrated as water levels decrease. This can harm organisms living in the water and require additional chemicals to treat drinking water. Along banks, dry, sparser vegetation filters water runoff less effectively, while less frequent rain leads to higher concentrations of pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizers to accumulate on the ground. When rain finally does wash pollutants into streams, the higher concentrations can overwhelm ecosystems.

“In much the same way voluntary conservation practices used by farmers and ranchers have prevented Oklahoma from slipping back into another Dust Bowl during this drought, it’s our hope that these best management practices will prevent water quality problems when the rains finally come,” said Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

OCC monitors approximately 450 streams statewide on a five-year rotation. Monitoring data is used to determine water quality and to identify how conservation practices are affecting streams, as well as how and where conservation efforts should be focused in the future.