New regulations require soil testing for fertilization

ARKANSAS - Bella Vistans need to have their soil tested this year so they can legally fertilize next year, a result of a squabble started by Oklahoma officials concerning phosphorous levels in the Illinois River.

Beginning in 2006, before applying nutrients to lawns, shrubs, trees, flowers or vegetables, amateur gardeners must have their soil tested to determine the acceptable amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen that can be applied each year. Furthermore, all fertilizer users will have to keep records of fertilizer use for up to five years.

The rules do not apply to the entire state -- only to "nutrient surplus" areas. These have been identified as the watersheds that feed the Illinois River, Spavinaw Creek, Little Sugar Creek, the upper Arkansas River, the Poteau River, the Mountain Fork of the Little River and the upper White River.

In 2003, Oklahoma established an allowable limit of 0.0037 parts per million of phosphorous for its "scenic rivers" and sought the Environmental Protection Agency's help to impose the same standard on Arkansas for waters flowing into the selected streams. An official statement from the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission calls Oklahoma's phosphorous limit "unattainable," sparking a dispute between the two states.

The driving force behind the dispute is a legacy of indiscriminate disposal of poultry excrement in rural parts of northwest Arkansas, and the subsequent nutrient-laden watershed runoff into four of Oklahoma's scenic rivers that originate in Arkansas, including the Illinois River.

In December 2003, the EPA stepped in to settle the issue between the states. It ruled Arkansas had to implement a program to reduce nutrient levels in the critical watershed areas. Furthermore, the Natural State was given 10 years to meet the more restrictive standards. The EPA also provided a $1.5 million grant to fund the program.

calendar icon 31 March 2005
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