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Assessing the hydrologic regime of the Kiamichi River to support sustainable management

Kiamichi River basin, Oklahoma

Featured image for the project, Assessing the hydrologic regime of the Kiamichi River to support sustainable management

View of Kiamichi River from Highway 271, the major north/south highway for Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. Credit: Bill Redman.

The Kiamichi River is a key shared water resource in southeastern Oklahoma, and it’s facing water diversion threats from hydroelectric projects, potentially creating issues for both basin residents and endangered mussel species on the river. The Kiamichi River Legacy Alliance is working to identify and fill critical knowledge gaps to better understand how diverting water from the river will impact the ecosystem. By creating systems for gathering and assessing hydrologic data, the KRLA will be able to accurately describe how proposed projects will impact the hydrology of the Kiamichi River, rather than relying on data from private economic interests. The community will also be able to contribute to the sustainable use and protection of the river into the future.

Description

The Challenge  

The Kiamichi River basin covers a crescent of land in southeast Oklahoma that extends from its headwaters near the Arkansas border to its confluence with the Red River near the Texas border. The 172mile‐long Kiamichi River flows through three Oklahoma counties (LeFlore, Choctaw, and Pushmataha), and the basin itself spans six counties. Water is the primary natural resource in the region, and the Kiamichi River represents a key cultural, economic, and environmental resource for the local community. 

The Kiamichi River has faced several water diversion threats. Most recently, Oklahoma City was granted a permit to divert water from the river, and Tomlin Energy was permitted to divert run-off stream water near the headwaters of the Kiamichi River for a hydroelectric project. These projects compound existing concerns related to likely future drought conditions in the basin. On top of water quantity concerns, stakeholders have significant water quality concerns. Decreased flows increase water temperature, increasing organic growth and hindering water treatment at downstream municipalities, many of which are already under economic pressureBasin residents are also concerned about the downstream impacts of reduced flow and increased sedimentation on water quality in the river system. The EPA has deemed the two largest sources of drinking water – Sardis and Hugo Lakes – as impaired, and mercury has been detected in fish in both lakes at levels warranting state advisories against fish consumption 

Mussels native to the Kiamichi River have been especially negatively impacted by the ongoing drought conditions and water management. Twenty-nine species of mussels live in the Kiamichi River, including the federal and state endangered Ouachita rock‐pocketbook (Arkansia wheeleri), Scaleshell (Leptodea leptodon), and Winged Mapleleaf (Quadrula fragosa). These keystone species, regarded as the canaries of the river, have declined significantly in recent years. 

The Kiamichi River Legacy Alliance formed in 2016 to protect the river from water diversion threats and to ensure the conservation of the river well into the future. The Alliance reaches over 7,000 citizens through their engagement and outreach efforts, which include hosting town halls, meeting with legislators, and organizing a citizen science program on the river. They are seeking support to understand the ecological and hydrologic realities of the Kiamichi River system so that they can protect their shared ecosystem for future generations.  

 

The Project 

A long-term vision is to create a remediation program for the Kiamichi River, improve its water quality, recover mussel populations, and protect the river for future generations to enjoy. A critical starting point to achieving restoration of the Kiamichi River is to develop a solid understanding of the hydrologic regime of the system 

The first priority for this project will be to engage with a hydrologist to assess the existing hydrological data and identify any key gaps. A second priority is to develop a methodology for independently assessing the impacts of diverting water away from the Kiamichi River. The Alliance has existing relationships with other subject matter experts; ideally, an interdisciplinary team would work collaboratively to holistically assess potential water diversion threats.  

Objectives: 

  • Assess existing data for key gaps and critical needs 
  • Develop the community’s capacity to assess the potential impacts of water diversion on downstream basin residents and sensitive native species 
  • Scope a possible hydrological monitoring program 

 

Project Outputs 

Desired outputs include: 

  • Publications on hydrological data for use in legal proceedings/considerations. 
  • Presentation of data locally, regionally, and nationally (e.g., town halls, conferences, and other meetings).
  • Modeling to support assessments of environmental threats. 

 

Proposed Timeline 

  • January 2021: Onboarding of hydrologist. 
  • January – March 2021: Assessment of available hydrological data and ecological indicators. Collaborative development of data collection plan to address outstanding needs.  
  • April 2021 – October 2021: Collection of hydrological and related scientific data. 
  • October 2021 – December 2021Data analysis and preliminary presentation to Kiamichi River Legacy Alliance.  
  • January 2022 and on: Public presentation and publication of data analysis. 

Project Team

Community Leaders

Kenneth Roberts is an analytical chemist, the Chairperson of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Tulsa, and the founder and president of the Kiamichi River Legacy Alliance. He leads the efforts of the group to gain a better understanding of their local ecosystem.  

Lauren Haygood is a graduate student at the University of Tulsa, studying the biogeochemistry of the Kiamichi River. Lauren organizes community science efforts to collect water quality data throughout the basin. She is also part of the AGU’s Voices for Science Program and serves as a student representative to the Soil and Water Conservation Society. 

Johnny Robbins is a landowner and board member of the Alliance. Johnny lives 30 feet from Kiamichi River and has witnessed firsthand the degradation of the river over the past decades. He is concerned about the water quantity and quality. 

Bill Redman is the Secretary and board member of the Alliance. Bill was born and raised on ranch on the Kiamichi River and has over 30 years of experience as a research chemist 

 

Community Science Fellow

Laura Bartock is a Facilitator in RESOLVE’s Washington, D.C., office, where facilitates collaborative planning, decision-making, and action to address environmental challenges. She provides strategic guidance, project coordination, and communications management for a variety of projects focused on natural resource management and conflicts, ecosystem stewardship, and energy and climate change issues. 

 

Community Scientist

Randy Stotler is a hydrogeologist and isotope geochemist, and Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and Adjunct Professor at the University of Kansas. He has 20 years of experience studying water resource issues, including groundwater-surface water interactions, in the Great Plains and around the world.

Collaborating Organization(s)

The Kiamichi River Legacy Alliance (KRLA) is a grassroots group of concerned citizens whose mission is to peacefully promote awareness, conservation, and protection of the Kiamichi River and its tributaries. Through various forms of media and educational programs, we hope to keep people informed on actions that can cause damage to the Kiamichi River water quality and quantity. The Kiamichi River is considered the most unique and diverse river in the state of Oklahoma. By diverting water to cities or allowing private companies to create dams along the river, the richness of the river will be destroyed forever. When large cities in Oklahoma and other states attempt to drain the Kiamichi River for profit, or dam it to create electricity, the river will no longer be able to sustain the wildlife it supports or the citizens who rely on the river for their livelihood.