• FOX23 Investigation: Is water in the Arkansas River safe?

    By: Janna Clark


    TULSA, Okla. - Quick Facts:

    • Could bacteria in the Arkansas River be making you sick?
    • FOX23’s Janna Clark is taking a closer look at the river water and how often it gets tested
    • The river winds through 42 miles of Tulsa County
    • FOX23 learned the river isn’t tested for bacteria, so we sent some water off for tests
    • WATCH Janna’s full story in the video above.


    The Tulsa community is spending big bucks to improve the Arkansas River, and workers are building A  Gathering Place for Tulsa along Riverside.

    But FOX23 learned that bacteria that could make you sick might be in the river, which might make you think twice about getting in.

    FOX23’s Janna Clark looked into the quality of that water.

    SEE MORE: FOX23 tests water in the Arkansas River

    When you're talking about your family's health and safety, one big thing to watch out for is E. coli. But after weeks and weeks of digging for information, FOX23 found that very little has been done to find out how much bacteria is in the river.

    Clark took samples to see what's in it.

    The view from our FOX23 Skyview drone shows the Arkansas River meandering 42 miles through Tulsa County. Tulsans ride bikes, run, play at parks and fish in the river.

    “We spend a lot of time out here. We came here to catfish and hopefully get something to eat later,” said Gabe Parks.

    Parks has no clue what's in the water, and “we get in the water a lot,” he told FOX23. He said he never thought bacteria could be contaminating the river, until now.

    It turns out that no one else knows what's in the water either. FOX23 learned that no one is testing it. Clark decided to test it herself. She started out testing next to the dam along the Arkansas River.

    She took a dozen samples up and down the Arkansas River in Tulsa, some in July and some in August. Clark is not a certified water tester, but she followed Tulsa County Health Department protocol.

    The health department analyzed the samples. The results from the Keystone Dam all the way to Bixby came back showing acceptable levels of E. coli. But two samples taken on two different days showed that E. coli was too high, both in the same area: north of the 23rd Street bridge.

    The government determines a health standard for the E. coli levels in the water. One sample that FOX23 tested came back six times too high.

    E. coli can come from human or animal waste, and environmentalists told FOX23 that although they're concerned about E. coli, it is difficult to figure out why it's in Arkansas River and how to get rid of it.

    The Oklahoma Water Resources Board tests the Arkansas River in Haskell to see how polluted the water is after it leaves Tulsa. Levels there have tested high at times.

    Research done by FOX23 shows that some creeks that flow into the Arkansas River are full of E. coli.

    Some are so bad that they're highlighted in red on the Department of Environmental Quality's list of impaired waters.

    The city of Tulsa tests streams in the city but has have not been testing the Arkansas River.

    Scott VanLoo, Operations Manager in the Streets and Stormwater department said the city doesn't have to. “The river is not actually part of our storm sewer system” he said.

    Since talking to FOX23, the city has decided to start testing, but just within the city limits.

    WATCH: Extended interview with Scott Vanloo


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