Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Monday water cleanliness and availability are the most important issues facing the state. This comes at a time of widespread concern about Oklahoma's water quality. Edmondson, who is suing poultry companies over alleged manure pollution, said an average of 1,000 to 1,500 people become sick each summer from swimming in the Illinois River watershed. That area is a popular summer vacation spot, with 150,000 visitors annually, he said. The illnesses go unnoticed, he said, when people attribute stomach illness to food poisoning when bacteria from feces in the water made them sick. The attorney general also said animal or human waste is to blame for the recent outbreak of a virus in the drinking water of a Grand Lake condominium complex. The comments came at the state's Water Law Conference, which is being held as a primer for regional meetings on water issues that start in August. The meetings will result in a 50-year plan for water use in the state. That plan will be hatched by 2011, and some say it is overdue.
Focus is on Illinois RiverMost of Edmondson's lunch-time speech focused on the Illinois River watershed, in northeast Oklahoma. He said that area should be getting most of the state's attention since it attracts the most swimmers and therefore puts the most people at risk for water-borne illnesses. The poultry industry is responsible for spreading the equivalent of fecal waste from 10.7 million people in the Illinois River watershed each year, he said. Phosphorus from that untreated waste is thought to create algal blooms and oxygen-dead waters. Edmondson's lawsuit against poultry companies is scheduled for September 2009, he said. The attorney general filed for an emergency stop to poultry waste-spreading this spring. A Tulsa judge has yet to rule. The attorney general received standing applause from most of the 300-person crowd in south Oklahoma City, but not everyone in attendance was pleased with his comments. Eugene Hill, a Bermuda grass farmer from Wynnewood, said the government should change regulations to address pollution from the poultry industry, rather than spending $19 million on a lawsuit. The lawsuit could put farmers out of business and cause food prices to go up, Hill said.
Grand Lake contaminationOn Friday, the state Department of Environmental Quality announced that it shut down the Windmill Run Marina Inc. complex's water system after more than 60 people became sick from a Norovirus. The department says it is investigating the matter, which also involved bacterial contamination of the private groundwater well. About 700 shallow groundwater wells in the area could be in jeopardy of similar contamination, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.