Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Urban construction runoff big problem for Northwest Arkansas streams; phosphorus in check, report says

30-MONTH STUDY: Creeks Meet Regulations


By Bob Caudle

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LOWELL — Phosphorus is not a problem in Osage Creek and Spring Creek, according to the findings of a 30-month study commissioned by the cities of Rogers and Springdale.

Dr. Marty Matlock, technical director of the Ecological Engineering Group at the University of Arkansas, said more pressing issues threaten the creeks’ well-being than phosphorus.

“We’re bulldozing the system with runoff from urban areas, and we’re worried about phosphorus,” Matlock said Tuesday. “We need a comprehensive plan to work on all the problems.”

Funding for the $420,000 study was split by the Board of Waterworks and Sewer Commissioners of the city of Rogers and the Springdale Water and Sewer Commission.

Both cities empty effluent into the two streams, which are tributaries in the Illinois River watershed.

Matlock said neither stream had samplings during the two-and-one-half year study that approached a violation of Arkansas water standards.

Oklahoma and Arkansas disagree about regulating the amount of phosphorus discharged from wastewater treatment plants — and the Environmental Protection Agency has just given cities two years to adhere to more stringent regulations on phosphorus.

The new regulations allow one-tenth the current regulations allow.

“Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville all just finished new waste water treatment plants that meet the current standards,” said Chris Weiser, chairman of the Springdale water commission. “Now the EPA comes along and changes the rules. It’s going to cost us as much to retrofit our plant to meet the new standards as it took to build it.”

Tom McAlister, superintendent, Rogers Water Utilities, said common sense told him the streams were not in environmental peril.

“This may be anecdotal,” McAlister said. “But I fish in those areas. I never have any trouble catching fish.”

The study found, according to Matlock, that water discharged from the Springdale treatment plant was of better quality than a benchmark stream that had no treatment facilities.

Rogers effluent, Matlock said, was not quite as good as Springdale. But, he added, Rogers discharges onto bedrock, making sampling difficult.

“It’s hard to find bug on bedrock,” Matlock said. “Mostly what you find is snails.”

Overall, Matlock said, the study found no evidence that the streams were being negatively impacted by nutrients, especially phosphorus.

“Phosphorus itself isn’t toxic,” Matlock explained. “It grows algae. Algae takes oxygen and other organisms in the water have to compete with it for the oxygen.”

Ed Fite, director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, attended the latter part of the meeting. Fite said he had not had time to digest the findings in the report, but that communication was a step in the right direction.

Fite said he will share the findings of the report with other Oklahoma water regulatory agencies.

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