Honey Creek flows from Benton County, Arkansas, and McDonald County, Missouri, into Delaware County, Oklahoma (Figure 1). The stream is split into upper (4.64 miles) and lower (4.85 miles) segments. Land use in the 79,000-acre watershed is primarily pasture and grasslands (57 percent) for cattle and hay production. About a third of the watershed is forested (about 33 percent) and approximately 7 percent is cropland for corn, soybeans and wheat production. The lakeside areas of the lower watershed are developed with vacation and retirement homes, and a portion of the city of Grove (pop. 6,692) extends into the near-lake area.
Grazing land management and development contributed to excess bacteria in Honey Creek. In 2008, data showed exceedances of the primary body contact recreational designated use water quality standard, which requires that the E. coli geometric mean remains below 126 colony forming units/100 milliliters (CFU). However, an insufficient number of samples were
collected to make a final determination for the 2008 assessment. A complete set of data collected for the 2010 assessment showed a geometric mean of 191 CFU, which exceeded standards (Figure 2). On the basis of these assessment results, Oklahoma added the upper segment of Honey Creek (OK121600030445_10) to the 2010 CWA section 303(d) list for non-attainment of the primary body contact designated use due to E. coli impairment. The lower segment of Honey Creek was also listed as impaired for E. coli in 2012.
Resource Concern summary:
Soil: Erosion, quality degradation – pasture management, riparian corridor issues
Water: Degradation – impaired for pathogens; risk for additional impairment from excessive nutrients and sediment
Animals: Inadequate habitat – degraded riparian corridor condition
Landowners in the Oklahoma portion of the watershed worked with the Delaware County Conservation District, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) to implement CPs with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 section 319
Nonpoint Source Program (NPS), through Oklahoma NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and general conservation technical assistance program, and through OCC’s Locally Led Cost-Share (LLCS) program.From 2006 to 2014, landowners installed CPs to address pollution from agricultural areas, including:
• Pasture and grassland CPs: Riparian area protection (384 acres) through livestock exclusion; alternative water supplies (includes 48 ponds, 222 water tanks, 6,300 linear feet of pipeline, and 76 wells); grass planting (1,268 acres); cross-fencing (350,397 linear feet); forage harvest management (81 acres); prescribed grazing (2,820 acres); upland wildlife habitat management (142 acres); and integrated pest management (2,370 acres).
• Animal waste management CPs: Application of alum to poultry litter (88 times) to reduce soluble phosphorus in applied litter by up to 25 percent; four “cakeout” storage facilities to temporarily house poultry waste; five mortality composters; heavy use area protections (238 areas); 25 winter feeding/cattle waste storage facilities, poultry litter transported out of the watershed (26,627 pounds), poultry litter relocated to low-phosphorus watershed areas (134,888 pounds); eight comprehensive nutrient management plans; and nutrient management
• Additional CPs included stream channel and riparian wetland restoration along approximately 3,600 feet of stream, eight agricultural energy management plans, herbaceous weed control, additional pest management, and replacement of 16 improperly functioning septic systems.
Through its statewide NPS ambient monitoring program, the OCC documented improved water quality in Honey Creek due to landowners implementing CPs. The installed grazing and animal waste management CPs worked to decrease erosion and reduce bacteria. In 2012, water quality monitoring showed that bacteria concentrations had decreased to a geometric mean of 63 CFU, which meets the water quality standard. This decreasing trend has continued through 2014 and 2016 (see Figure 2). On the basis of these data, the Upper Honey Creek segment was removed from the Oklahoma CWA section 303(d) list for E. coli in 2012, resulting in the partial attainment of its primary body contact designated use. Upper Honey Creek remains listed as impaired for Enterococcus bacteria.
Monitoring data also suggest improvements in lower Honey Creek that appear to support in 2017 and development of success stories that document full support of both segments’ primary body contact beneficial us
“We can actually run more animals than what we previously could….Now we rotate them every 30 days. We have a lot better grass.”
“If we can manage our land better and build a seed bank of native grasses and a better, more stable river bank, then that flood—if it happens, it won’t be as catastrophic.”
“[Some OCC people] came out and was in the stream with the seine, and they were pulling fish and different things out of there that theoretically had gone, had not been there for a few years. And now they’re back.”