Kiamichi River Journey – By Debbie Leo
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Day two of the Tomlin hearing June 30th in OKC began at 9:05 A.M. All but one party from day one in attendance, protestants Donnie and LaConia Corbin, unable to attend due to election day duties.
The hearing began with testimonies of the four remaining protestants. Each spoke of their concerns, their rights to protest against Tomlin Energy, LLC ‘s proposed closed-loop project #2019-0023, and defend their stream water rights to Kiamichi River and any tributaries in the Kiamichi River watershed basin.
Bill Redman, testified on behalf of his family, the Louise Redman Trust and KRLA. Redman, a chemical engineer who previously taught at the University of Tulsa, is now working in the private sector. He was considered “unqualified” by Tomlin’s attorney to be an expert witness.
Redman, has lived his whole life around the Kiamichi River and researched geological data of Tomlin’s proposed project site. His data data provided potential evidence of mercury sulfides in the shale and sandstone in the Ouachita mountains located within the site of the three ponds to be dug.
With depths of up to 140 feet for one pond alone, this data was eye-opening There may be deposits of the mineral, cinnabar, previously mined for mercury in southwest Arkansas in the Ouachita mountains. The mines in southwest Arkansas, no longer actively mined, have already polluted the region with mercury from the 1930’s and 40’s.
There is little doubt that a vein of mercury sulfides is present in the northeastern part of Pushmataha county, also. Cinnabar is stable underground until disturbed and released into the environment.
Any disruption by digging in the region will not only pollute the water, but will pollute the air we breathe as well. Redman spoke of his family’s downstream water rights. The family owns permitted rights from the Kiamichi River and have for many years. Watering their stock, irrigating hay fields and their own domestic use from the Kiamichi River is the family’s permitted right. Losing any water from the Kiamichi River system would harm these existing permitted stream water rights.
When cross-examined by the Tomlin attorney, Redman was asked if KRLA or his family’s Trust had hired an expert witness to dispute the findings of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) hydrologist. He could not dispute the findings of the OWRB hydrologist regarding the amount of overflow water yearly. Hiring expert witnesses to counter the old data from the 1980’s and dispute the model used for the determination of water by the OWRB hydrologist, monetarily unattainable.
The Tomlin group has yet to produce discovery regarding Redman’s data about the mercury content in the sandstone and shale at the site because they are not required to produce any discoveries to get their permit for stream water.
To get the stream water permit, they need proof of the amount of water available in the stream and the OWRB hydrologist provided that. They may be permitted the 33,000 acre feet yearly of Kiamichi “run-off” water for their project using a hydro-logical model from 1980.
I testified on behalf of my property and water rights to the Kiamichi River and tributary water as a landowner living along the Kiamichi River. I presented some pertinent facts I discovered while researching the proposed Tomlin Energy, LLC project and how it works. What I found was also disturbing and would pose threats to the Kiamichi River downstream from the proposed project site.
To keep Tomlin’s three ponds clean of any biology, algae, fish, etc. they must use chemicals to inhibit those biological contaminants into their closed-loop system.
Biological life and also minerals in the water would damage the internal workings of their pumps stations. To keep corrosive, scaling or algal growth away from the pumps, it is done with the use of chemicals readily available on the market for such use.
The majority of the list of chemicals available for use for this purpose are toxic to fish and invertebrates. When water is recycled through the pump station system, pipes and pumps stay clean, undamaged, but the environment downstream and the life in the Kiamichi River downstream would be terminated.
Tomlin has estimated that 3,000-5,000 acre feet of water will be lost to seepage and evaporation from the three ponds yearly. They claim in their permit application that any excess “run-off” water will flow back into the Kiamichi River.
They feel proud to tell us that excess water, treated with chemicals that kill off fish and invertebrates, will flow back into the river. This knowledge may or may not be known by the Tomlin group, but will certainly be revealed when their scientific studies for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will be done.
It is a very serious situation for the Kiamichi River and the life that lives in the stream water.With the chemicals from the ponds added to the mercury in the rocks and soils, you now comprehend why it is so important to stop this project from moving forward.
I spoke of my “beneficial uses” but I now realize that “beneficial use” may be the least important requirement used by the OWRB to determine stream water permit applications. From my past experience before the OWRB and in similar cases, “beneficial use” was irrelevant, considered not relevant to the board’s decisions in granting permits for stream water.
Testimony was then given by Larinda McClellan, property owner in Finley. She spoke about the drying up of the stream system in and around Finley that relies on the tributaries from the Little River basin.
Her right to stream water, which would also be compromised by the Tomlin project, is a concern because Tomlin will be disrupting Little River tributaries by digging their upper pond where many tributaries carry water downstream to Finley’s watershed.
She spoke of having a, now, dry well, the shifting, unstable soils around the region and just how fragile that basin is.
The final protestant, Lauren Haygood, a student at the University of Tulsa testified as an expert witness. Her professor, Dr. Kenneth Roberts, president of KRLA and the winner of the 2020 “Chemist of the Year” in Oklahoma.
She has a BA in Geo-science, and will graduate with an MBA in the same field. She presented scientific facts regarding every aspect that the previous three protestant before her had presented, but in particular, the shale and cinnabar content in the rocks at the site of the project.
Her testimony should help the OWRB understand the severe consequences of this project. In the end, it may be that the amount of water available may have been the only question to be answered at this hearing.
Closing statements began with the attorneys, each reiterating the issues before the Hearing Examiner, each providing relevance to their cases. The real interesting take from this is how the OWRB can and will defend the use of a model of stream water flow yearly using a 40 year old model.
The model is an out-of-date, scientifically inaccurate data profile. The OWRB may allow a project of this magnitude to proceed without pertinent scientific information.
The resulting potential destruction of an intermittent river, the Kiamichi River, that can barely provide clean water for its downstream users sustainably throughout the year, would be complete.
When the OWRB receives the information presented by the protestants, applicant Tomlin Energy, LLC., and the Hearing Examiner’s determinations, will it help decide the OWRB vote to permit or deny this application.
Will sound reasoning prevail and the OWRB determine there is enough water for this project without scientific data required? Will they disavow the “beneficial use” claims by the protestants?
If Tomlin Energy, LLC does receive the 33,00 acre feet of run-off/overflow water yearly, what might happen if they change their minds on this project site and pursue another location?
They will have the “term” water rights with the ability to do so. The permit would be good for seven years. Could they seek other sites in those seven years and if they do, would any of us still be willing to challenge them again?
It is possible that Tomlin cannot get a green light from the FERC because of the scientific facts presented by Haygood and Redman. Tomlin will be required to do all the studies as stated in last weeks article.
The challenges for this project are complex and must be completed within the year. May science rule the day and put a stop to this project altogether.
The Kiamichi River basin is a fragile ecosystem at the mercy of elected officials and corporations who want to help Pushmataha county prosper.
That would be great for the county if, and only if, it would do no harm to the Kiamichi River watershed. Risking all life in the Kiamichi River, our representatives are seeking this potentially lethal, not “green energy” project of huge magnitude with no promising outlook except financial gain.
That will not will help our county, on the contrary, it would devastate it.
Our representatives are tasked to promote a future that is regionally secure, but it should not be money for water. To bring Pushmataha county into an industrial future at the cost of our most important natural resource, water, to what end I ask?
The unfortunate reality is that, in pursuing this cash, they maybe selling us out not realizing the amount of toxicity this project will introduce to the environment. Pollution is not a water or air quality of life that exudes sustainable progress (money) for Pushmataha county.
What is at the heart of our county, the Kiamichi River and all the life that abides here, is not sustainable with projects like this being built using the Kiamichi River water.
Money for water will never assure a sustainable future for Pushmataha county. Taking water from an intermittent stream named the Kiamichi River will change the fate of a beautiful part of S.E. Oklahoma, a loss for the state and a loss with no beneficial future for Pushmataha county.