Fisheries threatened by Arkansas decision

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) approved a permit in February that will allow four companies to annually dump 832,000 pounds of ammonia and more than 50,000 pounds of phosphates directly into the Ouachita River several miles north of Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, raising concerns about the health of fisheries downriver.

"If those nutrients find their way into Felsenthal, which they will, we could have problems," BASS Conservation Director Chris Horton told BASS Times.

"There are already problems [in Felsenthal] with vegetation dying off and causing fish kills, and if those nutrients find their way into Felsenthal, there'll be even more plant growth. And more plant growth equates to more fish kills."

The permit allows El Dorado Water Utilities, Lion Oil Co., Great Lakes Chemical Co. and El Dorado Chemical Co. to build a 9-mile pipeline to the Ouachita River and combine their wastewater discharges.

Concerns over excessive levels of ammonia and phosphates, which are basic ingredients of fertilizer, moving down the river into Louisiana prompted Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. to challenge the permit on behalf of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and the state's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

"ADEQ failed to ensure that the discharge(s) under the challenged permit would not violate the provisions of federal law, rules or regulations requiring that permit conditions be established to ensure compliance with Louisiana water quality standards," claimed Foti's 35-page request for a hearing.

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission said it was surprised that the permit was approved because there are other options that would have minimized the potential environmental impact.

"We don't think they did a very good job researching these alternatives," said AGFC Fisheries Chief Mike Armstrong. "We believe they took the low cost approach."

Horton said the number of agencies warning against the project should have prompted ADEQ officials to at least take a harder look at how the discharges could impact water quality in the Ouachita River.

Viewing the agency's action through the prism of its history of poor environmental stewardship adds to the concern, Horton added."ADEQ is not known for its rigorous standards and enforcement," Horton said. "Now we're going to have a pipeline that won't be monitored, discharging directly into the Ouachita River."