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scenic rivers

The Grand River Dam Authority's coal-fired plant in Chouteau, Okla., which is impacted by the Regional Haze Rule.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oil prices are on the rebound, which should eventually generate revenue and help Oklahoma’s state budget situation. Still, another budget hole — that could be as large as $600 million — will likely have to be filled during the 2017 legislative session. One emerging idea that could put an extra billion dollars in state coffers: Selling the Grand River Dam Authority.

Ed Fite, executive director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, stands next to a mountain of life vests at one of the resorts on the Illinois River.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Come July 1, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission will be no more.

Gov. Mary Fallin on May 11 signed a bill disbanding the small state agency, transferring its mission — and employees — to the Grand River Dam Authority, which now takes on the Commission’s role of keeping Oklahoma’s six scenic rivers clean and safe for tourists.

The Illinois River flows around a recently fallen tree near one of the waterway's public access points.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

There are more than 78,000 miles of rivers and streams in Oklahoma. But 200 of those miles are unique — Oklahoma’s scenic rivers.

They are some of the state’s most environmentally sensitive waterways, and the state grants them special protections. The agency charged with overseeing the rivers has been a victim of state budget cuts and is on the verge of disbanding.

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and audience members listen to a presentation on right-to-farm at the April 19 meeting in Tahlequah, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Budget cuts and the death of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission were the thrust of mid-April’s regular meeting of the OSRC. But the real fireworks were around State Question 777, which you’ve probably heard referred to as ‘right-to-farm. What you probably haven’t heard it called yet is “State Question 666.”

Grand River Dam Authority CEO Dan Sullivan speaking to the April meeting of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission is a small agency with a big job: Police the Illinois River and protect six of the state’s most delicate waterways from pollution. But budget cuts have forced the commission to plan  for its own death.

Children play in a small tributary of the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla., in May 2015.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oil and gas are endangering the Oklahoma’s streams, soil and wetlands. Not by polluting them, but because plummeting oil prices have blown a billion-dollar hole in the state’s budget. Funding cuts at agencies that manage Oklahoma’s natural resources could threaten the state’s beauty, as well as people’s lives and property, officials say.

James Gaylor plays in a tributary of the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Governor Mary Fallin signed the $7.1 billion budget earlier this week, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission took a big cut. It’s a small state agency with a big job: overseeing hundreds of miles of river and roads in northeast Oklahoma with dwindling resources.

Eddie Brister, owner of the Beaver's Bend Fly Shop on the southern section of the Mountain Fork River.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is the final part of StateImpact Oklahoma’s series on the history of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the environmental threats they face. Here are parts one, two, and three.

Debbie Doss, conservationist for the Arkansas Canoe Club, stands on Natural Dam a few hundred feet upstream from Lee Creek in northwest Arkansas.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

A narrow rock wall holds back all but a couple of tiny waterfalls that sneak through cracks and flow into Lee Creek. This natural dam is so unique a nearby town in northwest Arkansas was named for it.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is part two of StateImpact Oklahoma’s four-part series on the history of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the environmental threats they face. Part one is available here.

Bob Deitrick checks the snaps on his bright orange life vest, crouches and checks all the gear one last time. The Owasso father’s son and his two friends are behind him, impatiently paddling in circles.

A group of Tulsa bartenders prepare for a day on the Illinois River at Diamondhead Resort near Tahlequah, Okla. in 2014.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

This is part one of StateImpact Oklahoma’s four-part series on the history of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the threats they face. 

The six eastern Oklahoma waterways classified as scenic rivers are each examples of the pristine beauty of that part of the state. They’re also tourist magnets. Even on a Monday morning, rowdy Tulsans pile into a bus at Diamondhead Resort and rumble toward the nearest access point into the Illinois River.