Path Home Shows 2010 Show Archive February 2010 Show 1006 OKC Water Quality

OKC Water Quality

Farmers upstream of Oklahoma's capital are pitching in to implement conservation practices that would improve the water quality in Oklahoma City.
OKC Water Quality

Oklahoma City

Show Dates

Show 1006: OKC Water Quality

Air date: February 7, 2010



Rob:  Well, when competitors in an Oklahoma City triathlon started getting sick after the event, state officials took a hard look at the river they swam in, and what they found were high levels of contaminants.  Further tests showed the bacteria coming from both human and animal sources; which is why farmers upstream pitched in together to implement conservation practices that would improve water quality in Oklahoma City.  Here’s our Courtenay Dehoff.

Courtenay Dehoff:  The North Canadian River is a primary source of drinking water for Oklahoma City.  Yet, miles away an effort is underway by farmers and ranchers to insure the watershed upstream remains pure.  Clean drinking water is easy to take for granted, and thanks to work by farmers and ranchers living and working along the North Canadian River, people downstream in Oklahoma City have less to worry about when it comes to contaminants in their water supply.

Steve House:  We fenced off about fifteen acres here.  We’ve got a grass-filter strips around the edge that keeps the cattle out.  The cattle don’t deposit any manure in that system.  It’s filtered any runoff that’s filtered that comes in here, it’s an old river channel so it naturally, it naturally drains into the river and it’s grown quite a bit in the last year.

Courtenay:  Local rancher Steve Howe says all the work done on his land just west of Watonga was with Oklahoma City residents in mind.  That’s why a group of state officials took a tour of House’s land; examining how conservation practices like keeping cattle out of ponds and planting wildlife-friendly grasses can improve water quality.

Steve:  This is a big part of my life; a retirement program if you want to call it that.  I think that this is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done.  This is going to help the hunting, it’s going to help the cattle, something to be very, very proud of.

Courtenay:  Over 500 hundred acres of highly erodible cropland along the North Canadian has now been turned into pasture for cattle.  A conservation practice that the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association Scott Dewald says helps everyone.

Scott Dewald:  He’s come out here and implemented a variety of practices to ensure that the water that’s getting into the Oklahoma River is clean when it leaves his place.  So, his cattle are getting better water out of the whole deal anyway, plus he’s delivering a cleaner product downstream from him because of everything that he’s done.  And it’s not just one practice, it’s a variety of practices including his no till operation he’s got going on including the buffer strips that you see back here.  And, I think he’s done a really nice job of taking some of the natural evolving elements on his ranch and incorporating them into some things that really work well for him.

Courtenay:  Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, Terry Peach, says statewide more than twenty thousand acres of cropland have been converted from conventional tillage to something called no till; a system of crop production that controls erosion and reduces runoff from farm ground by leaving residue from harvested crops in the field.

Terry Peach:  It’s a great demonstration project for all rivers and streams in Oklahoma.  Of course, the example we’ve used here today is the North Canadian River which flows into the water supply for the city of Oklahoma City; but this is, this is projects that farmers and ranchers are doing throughout the entire state of Oklahoma that increases water quality everywhere in our state.  So, as farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to come out here and see this and make the public more aware of the great things agriculture is doing.  We hope that everyone will realize, hey look what ag’s doing, let’s all step up and do our part and Oklahoma water quality will increase over the next decade.

Courtenay:  While such practices are indeed important for agriculture, State Senator Ron Justice says the work being done by ranchers like House benefits the entire state.

Ron Justice:  But, as important, or even possibly more important is the fact of how much it helps the urban areas and water quality for our cities.  Because as you know, water quality is extremely important to us in the state and the quality of water and so anything that we can do to maintain that water quality out here and improve it as it goes on down for the people in urban areas, then it’s a benefit to us throughout the state.

Courtenay:  So thanks to farmers and ranchers in small rural communities across the state, people in the big cities will continue to get clean drinking water, from a quieter source just upstream.  The work being done on agricultural land, while important, will not solve the problem by itself.  Leaky sewer pipes and runoff from yards and businesses all impact water quality; often to a greater extent than any runoff from agricultural land.