The programs reduce water pollution and make farm and ranchlands more productive while preventing conservation catastrophes like the Dust Bowl that destroyed ranches and farms in the state during the 1930s, said Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
"This is a great achievement," said Pope, who was flanked by members of the state House and Senate as he discussed the findings of an Environmental Protection Agency analysis of nutrient and sediment reduction nationwide. "By working cooperatively with landowners we can get a handle on these issues."
The EPA analysis, released earlier this month, found that in 2009, Oklahoma accounted for more than 10 percent of the reduction of nitrogen from waterways nationwide. It also found that of national reductions of phosphorous in water, more than 16 percent occurred in Oklahoma.
Pope said the state accomplished the reductions although it received less than 1 percent of all federal EPA non-point source pollution funds. Conservation practices include erosion control, safe use of pesticides and herbicides and avoiding potentially damaging land-use practices.
"By helping individuals with technical and financial assistance, farmers, ranchers and other landowners are willing to put their own money out of their own pockets into cost-share projects designed to address concerns like water quality," Pope said.
Rural lawmakers said the programs' success indicates the voluntary approach used by the state to partner with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts, federal conservation officials and landowners should be used by other states.
"These new water quality numbers show that the focus we have put on working with landowners through voluntary programs works when the program is structured right," said Rep. Skye McNeil, R-Bristow.
"This approach shows that protecting the environment and profitable production agriculture can go hand-in-hand," said Rep. Corey Holland, R-Marlow.
Non-point source pollution is contamination of a body of water from runoff from agricultural areas and similar sources that drain into a river or lake.
The issue has been highlighted in northeastern Oklahoma, where the state is suing Arkansas-based poultry companies it alleges have polluted a watershed with tons of chicken litter, including the feathers, droppings and bedding left in barns after birds are taken to slaughter.
The industry claims farmers broke no laws when they used the litter on their land as cheap fertilizer to grow other crops.
Conservation programs have helped remove some streams from the government's list of impaired waterways and have prevented others from being placed on the list. But hundreds of bodies of water remain classified as needing improvement, said Shanon Phillips, director of the Conservation Commission's water quality division.
"We haven't solved the problem," Phillips said.
She said about 500 segments of streams and other waterways in Oklahoma are listed as impaired out of more than 8,000 statewide.