For more than five years, the state of Oklahoma has been suing chicken companies mostly based in Arkansas for allegedly polluting the Illinois River with poultry litter.

Nothing has been decided, but as Illinois River Fest 2010 comes off this Saturday (Oct. 16), local people are saying that having the federal case hanging over the river basin has actually improved water quality.

A trial was held in early 2010 before U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell in Tulsa, but he has yet to rule on the merits of the case that pits the Oklahoma against the likes of Tyson Poultry Inc., Cargill Inc., George’s Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.

Why Frizzell has not ruled is not known.  

He might have been waiting out the political calendar.  In July, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who brought the cases against the chicken industry, was defeated by a mere 1,500 votes–about 6/10ths of one percent–by Lt. Gov. Jari Askins for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor.

Or Frizzell might have been waiting for the Sept 21 ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, upholding his decision to deny the Cherokee Nation’s request to intervene in the case.

Frizzell kept the Cherokee Nation out of the litigation because he said the request was not filed in timely manner and would delay the proceedings by several months.  

About 1,800 poultry houses dot the one million acre watershed of the Illinois River Basin shared by Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Poultry litter, a composite of chicken waste and bedding materials, is used as a cheap source of fertilizer that ends up as phosphorus-filled runoff into the watershed.

Since Oklahoma filed the lawsuit, however, there are signs that behaviors are being changed to benefit water quality.  More than 350,000 tons of poultry litter has been trucked out the watershed since 2005.

Less phosphorus being dumped into the river means higher oxygen levels and less algae growth, and more fish.

This weekend’s Illinois River Fest will feature live music, food booths, and river walks for kids.  The events will be at the War Eagle Resort on Highway 10, from noon to 6 pm, Saturday.