Saving Oklahoma’s Tar Creek: Regional Pollution Demands Regional Solutions

Tar Creek tributary | Photo by Ian Maule

Pollution from 70 years of lead and zinc mining has made Tar Creek a regional, watershed-wide problem that requires a watershed-wide solution. Tar Creek flows eleven miles from Kansas into Oklahoma, through a once lush prairie formerly among the richest grasslands of the Southern Plains. Forty years of acid mine water flowing from abandoned mines into Tar Creek has led American Rivers to include it on the list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2021.

Tar Creek is a tributary to the Neosho River, which merges with the Spring River to become the Grand River at the southern border of Ottawa County, Oklahoma. Construction of the Pensacola Dam across the Grand River created the Grand Lake ‘O the Cherokees. The dam is undergoing a relicensing process, which is expected to be completed and ready for approval in 2024. Agencies operating the dam and managing the lake have historically ignored the impacts of metals pollution in the lake and watershed, and do not consider the repeated upstream flooding events when making decisions.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is required to administratively combine what have been treated as discrete, local issues into what they are— a single watershed-wide pollution threat. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and State of Oklahoma must address historic and ongoing contamination from Tar Creek and the Tri-State Mining District throughout the Grand Lake watershed in conjunction with the relicensing of the Pensacola Dam.

Please join us in demanding that EPA Administrator, FERC Commissioner, and the Governor of Oklahoma establish an MOU requiring inter-agency analysis and decision-making between dam relicensing and the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

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