Without a name, one can become invisible and ignored. But this last week that may be changing. All these years and with all my pushing to start a movement, there is a spark of a start. NEO received a warning letter from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to immediately stop all dumping of oil through a garden hose from a maintenance building into a storm drain that feeds into Tar Creek and to clean it and additionally to remove yard waste from the banks of Tar Creek.
There is some discussion, perhaps to the level of dispute on the amount of oil released in that incident, but there is ample reason for concern. "One drop of oil" is a phrase I heard most of my life. The power of one, actually the disruptive power of one, since a single drop of used motor oil can contaminate a million drops of water and a single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to two million gallons of fresh water. NEO is actively removing all the oil from the storm water drains and they have oil absorbing material called "pigs" doing some of the dirty work.
One of my concerns is the repeated comparison of the runoff that occurs from the parking lot by the sports fields, as if that oil is a given and free from penalties. This is non point source pollution as opposed to point source like the pipe that directly delivers a pollutant. Oil in parking lots is carried by rainwater down storm sewers and is the largest form of non-point source pollution poisoning our aquatic life. This oil then sticks or glues itself to sediment and bio-accumulates in our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans, poisoning the base of the food chain. The more numerous the cars, the more serious the oil leakage, the more serious the pollution.
Oil pollution may be the largest form of pollution killing our waterways. Each of us, every home or car owner, can do better to solve our part of the problem. The best management goal is simple. Don’t let anything go down the drain apart from clean water and don’t pick up waste and transfer it to the land fill; it ends up somewhere else in the water table.
Currently, the Fisheries Act in Canada and the Clean Water Act in the USA states clearly that discharging deleterious substances directly or indirectly into the environment is illegal and subject to stiff penalties. However, these are federal laws and in most municipalities, they are not enforced unless an Environmental Protection Officer stumbles onto the illegal activity or a person complains prompting an investigation. Every household and business should have the ODEQ Hotline number handy 1-800-522-0206.
NEO has not been fined for this discharge, but as the responsible party with the guidance from DEQ is following the steps to clean up and train staff on environmental practices to be used in the future: to develop a plan or reduction strategy and ultimately solve the problem, three key areas need to be addressed jointly: (1) Enforcement, (2) Education and Intervention, (3) Technology.
They have every reason to work toward correcting the violations and they have every reason to know what they do matters and people care for the environment, tribal and non-tribal citizens and have hopes for the future. AND there are regulations and laws that protect our environment and investigators can enforcement them. How incredibly cool is that?
We are on the verge of dealing with the heavy metal discharges into Tar Creek and her sediments, with additional attention to the rest of the impacts she has received, the story is looking much better for this little stream.