Illinois River issues approach tipping point

01/23/2018 12:00 PM
TULSA (AP) – It’s a cloudy, misty Sunday morning in January and Scott Hood called his catch as the fly fisherman stood in the clear, gently flowing water of the Lower Illinois River near Gore.

“Always cast to a rising fish,” he said, as his line curled through the gray morning toward the water and his “fly that catches everything” – a wooly bugger variation – dropped gently near ripplets left by a rising rainbow trout.

“Come on, take it,” he coached a trout he could feel playing with the fly as he retrieved his line bit by bit. The hiss of line springing taut between fish and fisherman as it whipped up out of the water soon followed, Hood’s rod bowed and he said, “Ah, there he is.”

Another one of countless rainbow trout Hood catches week after week on the river near Oklahoma’s “Trout Capital,” an hour’s drive from Tulsa, came to his net and was released to play another day.

Winter is a “no worries” time – and a great time – for fishing the Lower Illinois River, Hood said. But for a guy with no worries, he sure has a lot on his mind lately, such as summertime on this river and how that time of year hurts the fish.

“In the winter, it doesn’t matter as much. It’s cold and the water has plenty of oxygen and the fish do fine,” he said.

May through November, it’s a whole other story. That’s when the river suffocates in the heat. It gets thirsty but has no permission to drink.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is charged with managing the “conservation pool” behind Tenkiller Ferry Dam, and 100 percent of that water is allocated to public and private entities — 93 percent of it to Southwest Power Administration. For the past several years, water to support the lower river was “borrowed” from the now-defunct Sequoyah Fuels utility company under conditional approval of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, which ruled that if a municipal water company needed it instead, the arrangement would be canceled, the Tulsa World reported.

That day has come and the river’s clock is ticking on an 18- to 24-month deadline, Hood said.

Water for the Lower Illinois has spun through a legal, regulatory and financial morass for decades and, finally, this deadline may push it to a tipping point where a permanent solution must be found.

Hood, active in Oklahoma’s Trout Unlimited Chapter 420 and on the national Trout Unlimited board of trustees, is among several who have sounded the alarm. He recently created a Facebook group, “Water For The Lower Illinois River,” to inform and “rally the troops” should they be needed.

“We had about 700 people sign up the first week,” he said.

State Rep. John Bennett and Sen. Mark Allen held a late-December meeting on the topic at Bennett’s Sallisaw office that was attended by Hood, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation officials, Chris Horton of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and a congressional representative, Hood said.

Another meeting is planned for later this month at U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s office with representatives of Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford’s offices coming, as well, said Allen.

The crux of the matter is that when the dam was built there was an oversight regarding the river that flows below Tenkiller Lake, past the town of Gore and into the Arkansas River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered to stock rainbow trout as a mitigation measure for damming the stream, but someone forgot, didn’t bother or didn’t realize that they needed to allocate water for the river, as well.

For many years, a leak through the dam provided enough water to help the trout get by most of the time. In 2008, that leak was fixed. Predictably, hot weather, low flow and low oxygen levels led to a news-making fish kill of trout and native fish soon thereafter.

That’s when the water “loan” was worked out. Since then, Wildlife Department biologists, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technicians and Southwest Power officials have worked together, almost daily at times, to keep the river’s fish alive in those worrisome summer months.

“That failure to dedicate water for the river has haunted us for years,” said Barry Bolton, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department.

It’s not just the year-round trout fishing, but trophy striped bass and other fish, the riverside habitat and recreation in the area that rely on at least a minimal flow of water in the river, he said.

“There is an answer to this,” Bolton said. “I know we can find something that works for hydropower and fish and wildlife and the community, and we can get that working and underway.”

Sen. Allen said more than a $5 million annual impact to the community is at stake, and his constituents are well-grounded in their concerns.

The solution is tricky, however. A federal study, required for reallocation among the lake-water stakeholders, could cost millions and take years. The same goes for raising the conservation pool level in Tenkiller, which would need to rise another 18 inches or 2 feet, he said.

Arkansas solved a similar problem in the White River by raising the normal conservation pool level of Bull Shoals Reservoir 5 feet, but it took years and millions of dollars, Allen said.

“It takes an act of Congress,” he said. “This time, we’ve got Chris Horton of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation with us, too, and he’s been through this in Arkansas with issues on the White River. We’re just trying to keep this thing alive and find a permanent solution.”

Another option is to work something out with Southwest Power as the majority water rights holder.

“The tricky thing is to work out something permanent in writing,” Allen said.

Hood has been the state’s No. 1 civilian activist on the Lower Illinois for years. He shakes his head at the regulatory and financial complexities that arose from a problem that – at first blush – seems so basic.

“The dam leaked for years and years and they never missed a generation day, nobody ever missed that water and they managed it,” he said. “The logical thing is, in a way, to just let it leak again. When we had the fish kill, we spent the money, $800,000, for an airifier, a system that enhances the oxygen in water, and a flow pipe to bypass the dam. The infrastructure is there if they can just be allowed to run it whenever it’s needed to put water in the river, and it doesn’t cost anyone anything. I mean, you just can’t have a river without water.”


05/27/2018 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Living in Oklahoma during the late spring and summertime means facing heat conditions that can sometimes reach dangerous temperatures. Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, and an estimated 618 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. It is important to know how to protect yourself and others from the impacts of heat waves. Extreme heat can lead to dangerous heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These illnesses happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the body is supposed to cool itself off by sweating. However, in cases of extreme heat, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Personal factors such as age, weight, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use can also play a role in whether a person can cool off enough in very hot weather. “People must balance their summertime activity with actions that help the body cool itself,” Robyn Sunday-Allen, Oklahoma City Indian Clinic CEO, said. “It is important that everyone understands the signs of heat illness and should even take time to check on the elderly, friends, family and neighbors during these conditions to ensure their health and safety." Limit outdoor activity. If you like to exercise or even just like being outdoors, it is important to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. You must start slowly and then gradually pick up your pace. However, if you are exercising in extreme heat and you are left gasping for breath, immediately stop all activity, let someone know where you are, and get into a shaded and cool area to rest. In addition, it is important to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher. Never leave kids or pets unattended in a hot vehicle. As a reminder, the temperature in a car can be deadly during extreme heat. The temperature inside a car can rise 20 degrees Fahrenheit in just 10 minutes, so leaving a window open is not enough. Children who are left unattended in the heat and in parked cars are highly at risk for heat stroke and sometimes even death. To avoid any heat illnesses, dress children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. It is also important that they drink lots of fluids. Check up on the elderly, sick and those without air conditioning. People aged 65 years or older are more at risk to encounter heat-related health problems. Prevent these illnesses by checking up on people in the community during periods of extreme heat. Air conditioning is important to have in conditions of intense heat. If someone is without air conditioning, offer to drive him or her to an air-conditioned location or a safer environment. Also, consider carrying extra bottles of water and other supplies in case others are in need of them.
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
05/27/2018 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizens living outside the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction are eligible for free one-year subscriptions of the Cherokee Phoenix thanks to a $10,000 disbursement from the principal chief’s office on behalf of At-Large Tribal Councilors Mary Baker Shaw and Wanda Hatfield. The Cherokee Phoenix recently received the funds and is taking names on a first-come, first-served basis until the money is depleted. “These funds that have been provided to the Cherokee Phoenix by the joint efforts of our tribal administration and our At-Large (Tribal) Councilors Mary Baker Shaw and Wanda Hatfield will go a long way in providing subscriptions to at-large citizens,” Executive Editor Brandon Scott said. “It has always been our goal here at the Phoenix to make sure that every citizen that wants a copy of the Cherokee Phoenix is able to get one. That is the sole reason we exist. Our success depends on our subscribers. Our ability to remain independent relies solely on the funds we receive from subscriptions, so these funds are not only assisting at-large citizens they are also assisting us in remaining independent. I’d personally like to thank Councilors Baker and Shaw as well as the administration for making this donation possible.” Scott added that there are no restrictions on receiving a free subscription other than living outside the CN jurisdiction and being a CN citizen. Using the fund, at-large CN citizens can apply to receive a free one-year subscription by visiting, calling or writing the Cherokee Phoenix office and requesting a subscription. The Cherokee Phoenix office is located in the Annex Building on the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. The postal address is Cherokee Phoenix, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. To call about the fund, call 918-207-4975 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>. The Cherokee Phoenix also has a free website, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>, that posts news seven days a week about the Cherokee government, people, history and events of interest. The monthly newspaper is also posted in PDF format to the website at the beginning of each month. Cherokee Nation Businesses in November donated $10,000 to the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder/Veteran Fund, which provides free subscriptions of its monthly newspaper to elders and/or military veterans who are CN citizens. No income guidelines have been specified for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund, and free subscriptions will be given as long as funds last. Tax-deductible donations for the fund can also be sent to the Cherokee Phoenix by check or money order specifying the donation for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund. Cash is also accepted at the Cherokee Phoenix offices and local events where Cherokee Phoenix staff members are accepting Elder/Veteran Fund donations. Those who donate can also have entries submitted for them into the Cherokee Phoenix’s quarterly artist giveaway. For every $10 donated or spent on Cherokee Phoenix merchandise, a person gets one entry into the quarterly drawing. The next drawing is July 2 when it gives away a two-piece, 12-foot fishing rod donated by Larry Fulton of Larry’s Bait and Tackle in Fort Gibson.
05/26/2018 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — American Indian tribes are welcoming an opportunity to offer sports betting in potentially hundreds of casinos across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize it. Tribal casinos generate more than $31 billion a year in gross revenue. While adding sports books isn’t expected to boost that number significantly, tribes say it’s another source to deliver services to tribal members. “The conversation is always, ‘Why don’t you do like Vegas?’“ said Sheila Morago, executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. “Everybody always wants to give their customers things they have asked for.” Many tribes give a share of casino profits to states in exchange for exclusive rights to conduct gambling operations. In Arizona, the state’s share was about $100 million last year. Some tribes believe agreements with states already give them the right to control sports betting, while others will work out the details through negotiations in compacts that vary in wording state by state. “It’s going to be important for the tribes that their position as sovereigns and their existing compacts within their states are recognized,” said Valerie Spicer, a co-founder of the consulting firm Trilogy Group. “There’s still a lot of work left to do.” Nearly 240 tribes operate casinos in more than half of U.S. states under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or as commercial ventures. Some only have games like bingo or pull tabs that don’t need authorization from states. The majority of the roughly 475 tribal casinos have those games and others like slot machines, blackjack and other table games, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission. Sports wagering would fall in the latter category, the commission said. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on a challenge from New Jersey. The law limited sports betting to four states that met a 1991 deadline to legalize it: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. States now can adopt laws regulating sports betting, though some already have the legal framework in place. In California, voters would have to approve a change to the state constitution. As is, California tribes have exclusivity in casino-style gambling, and some believe that includes sports betting. Steve Stallings, the chairman of the California Indian Gaming Commission, said the group that represents 34 tribes wants specifics on what sports betting would encompass before the state moves to legalize it. For example, he said, would it occur at a physical sports book or could wagers be placed online? “Expansion of gaming is a slippery slope,” he said. “Tribes feel like they have somewhat an exclusivity to it. When the state or other interests violate that, then tribes are concerned.” In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey saw the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision as a way to modernize tribal gambling compacts and potentially boost revenue to the state. Most of the tribal compacts are up for renewal in 2022. Greg Jones was visiting a casino run by the Navajo Nation east of Flagstaff this week. He said he used to bet regularly on college football and being able to do it at a tribal casino less than an hour from his home beats traveling to Nevada. “It’s a big pot,” he said. “Everyone should be able to dip their foot in the pool.” Tribes in Oklahoma have been trying to get sports betting approved through the state legislature in the last two sessions but have been unsuccessful, Morago said. In Connecticut, the Mohegan Tribe said it’s looking forward to working with the state to legalize and regulate sports betting. “We have long felt that Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment was in a great position to offer this type of gaming at our properties,” spokeswoman Jennifer Harris Ballester wrote in a statement. Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, said the group has been preparing tribal governments for sports betting with listening sessions outlining internal regulations and negotiations of state gambling compacts. Location and competition would be major factors in tribes’ decisions to add sports betting, he said. “I don’t believe this is going to take the place of our slot machines, but it’s another amenity we can enjoy and people can have fun with,” he said. “And we want to be able to move forward with the overall industry.”
05/26/2018 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Experts are looking at how Oklahoma's seismic activity impacts critical infrastructure as frequent, low-level earthquake swarms continue to pop off throughout the state. The Tulsa World reports that Oklahoma has experienced 80 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater magnitudes this year through Thursday morning. The Oklahoma Geological Survey says that 2015 was the state's peak year, with just over 900 quakes of 3.0 or greater. A Society of Exploration Geophysicists article this month said that soil, concrete and steel structures are "susceptible to fatigue" under seismic conditions that weren't considered during design. Scientists worry long-term low-level shaking could affect storage tanks and pipelines in Cushing, an oil hub in Oklahoma. The Tulsa-based society is hosting an August forum to engage experts in discussions on the issues and write for publication.
05/25/2018 03:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation will host a send-off ceremony for its cyclists who leave Tahlequah on Tuesday for the annual “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride. This year’s cyclists range in age from 18 to 24. They will meet eight cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina for a ride that begins in New Echota, Georgia, on June 3, and concludes around 950 miles later on June 21 in Tahlequah. Cyclists follow the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears - spanning Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma – to retrace the path of their ancestors. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees forced to march to Indian Territory in the late 1830s, 4,000 died from exposure, starvation and disease, giving credence to the name Trail of Tears. During the ceremony, tribal leaders will wish the cyclists a successful trip and safe return. The CN riders are Daulton Cochran, Emilee Chavez, Lily Drywater, Dale Eagle, Parker Weavel, Sky Wildcat, Courtney Cowan, Autumn Lawless and Amari McCoy. Jennifer Johnson, a CN citizen and Oklahoma City lawyer, was chosen as this year’s mentor rider. Cherokee Nation Businesses Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett, an avid cyclist, is also expected to join the cyclists during the journey’s first week. Follow the riders at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #RTR2018 and #WeRemember.
05/25/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials with the Oklahoma Senior Games said registration for the 2018 competition is open and will feature 20 events, including new ones such as a power walk, softball, corn hole and washer pitch. Local Senior Games events were held this spring in Yukon and will be held this fall in Ardmore from Sept. 7-14. Fall events will also be held in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. All athletes must be 50 years old by Dec. 31, except for those who compete in badminton, cycling, tennis and table tennis. Those events are open to athletes who are 40 and older by Dec. 31. Participants will compete in one of the following age categories for both individual and/or doubles sports: 50-54, 55-59,60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75-79, 80-84, 85-89,90-94,95-99 and 100 and older. Team sports are divided into the following brackets: 50-plus, 55-plus, 60-plus, 65-plus, 70-plus, 75-plus, 80-plus and 85-plus. Partner and team age groups will be determined by the age of the youngest partner/team member. Athletes may enter as many events as their schedule allows. Participants finishing in the top places in their age category in each event qualify for National Senior Games set for June 14-25, 2019, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Early bird registration is $50 before 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 1. After Aug. 1, registration is $60 until two weeks before each event’s entry deadline. Fee includes up to 6 events. Additional events will be $5 each. A $10 fee will be added for paper registrations. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.