Oklahoma Adds Success to Success With 2019 Nonpoint Source Success Stories

By Bryan Painter

There’s aiming for success and there’s adding to it. Oklahoma is in the category of the latter when it comes to cleaning up streams.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s (OCC) Water Quality Division, recently in delivering its 2019 Oklahoma Nonpoint Source (NPS) Success Stories to the Conservation Commission, announced 12 new stories and three updates.

“That’s success added to success for Oklahoma, the nation’s leader in Nonpoint Source Success Stories at 84 stories since 2007,” said Shanon Phillips, Director of the OCC Water Quality Division. “The partnership among Oklahoma landowners, Conservation Districts, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment is a national leader in solving water quality problems. This success is evident where voluntary conservation programs have resulted in the removal of streams from Oklahoma’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waterbodies. The success is also evidenced by annual estimated pollutant loading reductions to Oklahoma’s waterbodies. Once again, Oklahoma is in the top five states at reducing nutrient loading to our state waterbodies.”

Phillips said she looks forward year each to discovering which water quality improvements qualify as long-term, verified successes. 

“For many of these streams, the OCC and partners such as the Oklahoma Water Resources Board have been monitoring them regularly since the 1990s,” Phillips said. “USDA Farm Bill programs and other state, federal, tribal, and local conservation partnerships have invested in land protection and conservation across Oklahoma for decades.  It’s wonderful to see the fruits of those conservation programs reflected in improving water quality results, verified through our partnership with the EPA.”

Trey Lam, OCC Executive Director, said, “I continue to be amazed how Oklahoma’s conservation partners, working with farmers and ranchers, clean up the water in our streams and rivers.  The Oklahoma fans of healthy streams are jumping up and down shouting “WE’RE NUMBER 1.”  Oklahoma is not just in the Top 10 for delisting polluted streams.  We lead the nation, and we have for several years.  The model built and still utilized in Oklahoma has created a Water Quality Dynasty.  Implementing the EPA 319 non-point source pollution program through small stream water monitoring combined with USDA-NRCS, OCC and Conservation District incentive programs has proven again and again the best approach.  Farmers and ranchers are comfortable working with NRCS and Conservation Districts to implement conservation practices on their land near where water quality monitoring has identified a problem.  Cooperators improve their land, and all Oklahomans benefit from cleaner water.  It’s truly a win-win situation that Oklahoma created.”

What are Nonpoint Source Success Stories?

The EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution Program is evaluated annually on whether it has produced at least 50 Nonpoint Source Success Stories, at least one per state. 

A Success Story is generated when a state or territory has documented water quality improvements caused by nonpoint source pollution reductions that are sufficient to delist one or more pollutants from the state’s 303(d) list. Keep in mind, there are also categories of success stories for progress toward delisting or ecological restoration, but they don’t count toward the goal.

While the overall goal is one per state, Oklahoma’s Nonpoint Source Management Plan sets a goal of at least three NPS Success Stories per Year.

Before earning the success title 

Three things must occur before OCC considers whether a delisting qualifies as a success story.

First, a stream must stay off the list for at least two cycles. Generally, this means 10 years or more worth of data. One reason is that OCC won’t consider a story that compares a wet weather listing to a drier weather delisting. 

Second, OCC will use the current assessment method on listing data to determine whether it should have been listed. 

Also, OCC will consider the types and amounts of conservation practices to ascertain whether they were likely sufficient to result in the improvement.

Read more in the January issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.