Talking Points Regarding the Lower Illinois Water Issues
1. Tenkiller Reservoir, a US Army Corp of Engineers Dam was built in 1952 for flood control, electricity generation and recreation, but no water was allocated for minimum flow for the river below the dam.
2. South West Power Administration owns storage rights for 93% of all the available water, leaving only 7% for all other water users. No un-contracted water is available for the Lower Illinois River.
3. For over 20 years there was a leak in the sluice gate in the dam. That leak resulted in enough water to sustain the stream below the dam to support all fisheries including Trout, Striped Bass, Walleye, Sauger, Catfish and other native fish species.
4. In 2009 the USACE used monies available from the Obama administration to repair the leak in the sluice gate. The repair process stopped all releases into the river for several days during the summer resulting in a severe fish kill effecting thousands of fish. Not only Trout were lost but thousands of native Oklahoma fish also died. As a result, SWPA worked with the USACE to install a low flow pipe to supply water to the river in the event that this situation was to occur in the future.
5. For the past few years water to support the low flow pipe releases were made possible by “loan" of approximately 13,000 acre feet of water previously held by the now defunct Sequoyah Fuels. This loan was granted with the approval of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board with the agreement that if a municipal water company came to them requesting the storage that it would be granted and the loan cancelled with the ODWC. This was several years ago and because neither of the municipal water companies needed the water at that time both extended the loans to the ODWC until such time that they would call for the water. Both have announced that those days are coming in the near future. (18to 24 months)
6. With no water allocation ever granted to maintain a sustained flow in the Lower Illinois River, the future of any summertime fishery is in jeopardy.
7. Over the past 30 years many businesses in the region have grown and thrived on the fishing opportunity the Lower Illinois River provides, resulting in over $ 5 million in annual revenue to the area. (Economic study conducted by Oklahoma State University in 2004). That number is likely greater today with the acquisition of the Simp and Helen Watts Management Unit by ODWC in 2006 which provides approximately a mile of public stream fishing opportunity.
8. According to the ODWC over 64,000 anglers in Oklahoma enjoy the year around opportunity to fish for Trout (this number does not include the 10s of thousands of nonresidents that come to Oklahoma annually to also take advantage of trout fishing) In addition to the economic impact of the trout fishery is the state record quality Striped Bass fishery that draws anglers from multiple states to fish the lower Illinois.
9. The economic value, as well as the wildlife habitat value of the Lower Illinois River should not be ignored. Common sense says that a “redo" of the original allocations of water for the Lower Illinois River needs to take place. When or how that takes place needs to be addressed by those that have the power to make the necessary changes. We can no longer “kick the can down the road” as the consequence of doing so will quickly lead to the end of the trout fishery and the boost to the economy that it provides.