Northeast Oklahoma Residents Claim Simmons Foods Tapping Out Water Supply

by Associated Press  on Thursday, Jul. 26, 2018 1:07 pm   2 min read

Simmons Foods has expanded poultry operations within the past year in the six northeast Oklahoma counties shaded in red.

TULSA — Families living near new and larger poultry farms in northeast Oklahoma are blaming the facilities for their diminishing water supply.

The planned construction of an upgraded poultry processing facility in nearby Arkansas has prompted the growth in chicken farming, The Tulsa World reported.

Peggy Thompson said her family home in Rose had a good supply of well water for generations, but that the poultry operations are using it all up.

"I have to drive 10 miles to do laundry at a Laundromat now instead of doing it in my own home," Thompson said.

No clear evidence points to the poultry operation expansion as the cause for the recent water problems, but Kent Wilkens, chief of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board Planning and Management Division, said it is possible in theory. People can contact the division and arrange for inspections, while staff can offer advice, he said.

Simmons Prepared Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs is building the new plant between Decatur and Gentry. It is set to open in 2019 and expand to full capacity by 2022. The company projects a 16 percent increase in the number of chickens processed and that will take an area increase of slightly more than 200 chicken houses, about half of which would be built on existing farms in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, according to Simmons Foods spokesman Donny Epp.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry on its web site lists 41 licenses for new or expanded poultry operations over the past 12 months. Of those, 16 licenses — for a total of 96 new houses — are listed for Delaware County. Simmons Foods is named as the integrator for all but one.

Of 25 total licenses under Simmons, two more are pending applications and do not yet list a location, two are listed for Mayes, three for Adair, and one each is listed for Cherokee, Ottawa, and Craig counties.

Residents say they are frustrated by the increase and that a permitting process with public notification is needed along with setbacks from sensitive streams, homes and community buildings.

"It's terrifying," said Bobbie Foreman of Leach. "Without water there is no life."

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