News Feature | December 11, 2013

EPA Assessing Phosphorus Limit For Illinois River

By Sara Jerome


The EPA is studying the Illinois River Watershed to decide on new regulatory limits for certain nutrients.

"By December 2014 there will be a draft TMDL [for phosphorous] presented,” Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite said in the Tahlequah Daily Press.

The EPA has its eye on the watershed because of concerns over phosphorus levels. The watershed is on the 303(d) list.

"The term '303(d) list' is short for the list of impaired and threatened waters (stream/river segments, lakes) that the Clean Water Act requires all states to submit for EPA approval every two years on even-numbered years," according to the EPA. 

State officials recently toured the watershed with EPA officials to check out progress made by local authorities. 

"Successful streambank stabilization projects have reduced erosion and also worked to filter runoff, resulting in cleaner water reaching area streams," according to the state. 

The TMDL for the river will be based on "how much phosphorus the watershed can handle without impairment from algae growth and associated sight, taste and odor problems with water quality," according to the group Save The Illinois River. 

The TMDL for phosphorus for the watershed is currently 0.037 milligrams per liter of water, according to the Cherokee Phoenix

"In 2003, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board set that standard for phosphorus in the state’s six scenic rivers that flow from northwest Arkansas into northeastern Oklahoma," the Phoenix reported. 

Claudia Hosch, associate director of Water Quality Protection for the EPA’s Region 6, said her office started monitoring the Illinois River Watershed more closely four years ago.

“Our agency has committed significant resources both in contract resources as well as staff [to the Illinois River Watershed project]. We have folks from our region who are working pretty much full time on this project. We are committed to complete the best model possible of the entire watershed," she said in the report.

Too much phosphorus can cause "excess algae growth in the river, which inhibits food growth for fish and other living beings," the report said. 

Phosphorus levels in the watershed may actually have gone down in recent years, according to University of Arkansas researchers. That is attributed to reduced phosphorus emissions from wastewater treatment plants and cleaner practices by chicken farmers.

The Illinois River "is a multi-jurisdictional tributary of the Arkansas River between Arkansas and Oklahoma," the Phoenix said. 

Image credit: "Illinois River Morris, IL," © 2008 Wendy Piersall, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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