Oklahoma Water Resources Board the Water Agency

From the Director

From the Director is a column published in the agency's quarterly newsletter, the Oklahoma Water News. The column provides the OWRB Executive Director an opportunity to share a unique viewpoint on pertinent state water issues and discuss various OWRB activities and events.

4th Quarter, 2016

As we reflect on a year marked by progress and change, I am reminded that it is an exhilarating and important time for water management in Oklahoma. The involvement of so many in the water community continues to strengthen policy, scientific understanding, and partnerships in the state. We look forward to continuing to serve and collaborate with you in 2017.

In October, we said farewell to Executive Director J.D. Strong, who accepted the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and I was named Interim Executive Director. On behalf of the Board and staff, I would like to thank J.D. for his leadership and friendship during his time with the OWRB. We wish him well in his new endeavors.

I appreciate all who attended the 37th Annual Oklahoma Governor’s Water Conference & Research Symposium in October. Thanks goes out to OWRB Chairman Linda Lambert and J.D. for serving as hosts, as well as sponsors and our dedicated staff who continue to make this conference the state’s premier water policy and research event. I congratulate Water Pioneer Award winners Robert Henry and Governor Frank Keating. I would especially like to thank Governor Mary Fallin and the roundtable representatives from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Chickasaw Nation, City of Oklahoma City, and State of Oklahoma for their participation in our opening session focused on the historic water right settlement.

In mid-December Congress and the President executed a comprehensive water rights agreement as part of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act. This agreement provides certainty in the management of water resources in the southeast quadrant of the state while reasonably providing an extra level of water security for central Oklahoma. I would like to recognize the contributors for their leadership, working together to craft an agreement that would benefit all parties, and seeing the legislation through as it became law.

Another “monumental” conclusion came in December with the finalization of the joint study between Oklahoma and Arkansas, which affirms, with slight variation, a numeric phosphorus standard for Oklahoma’s scenic rivers adopted in 2003 to address water quality degradation. After a series of meetings in 2016 and the release of a 2-year study conducted at more than 30 sites in both states, the committee finalized recommendations, which are expected to end further legal disputes and provide certainty in the requirements of phosphorus reduction.

Significant progress was made on the Water for 2060 and regional water planning front by many groups across the state. In August, I was delighted to join the advisory council for East Central University’s new Oka’ Institute, which is focused on developing long-term water solutions with an emphasis on sustainability and economic development. We were pleased to participate in numerous water workshops and meetings held by regional and sector groups, universities, and Tribes, including the Beaver-Cache Watershed group, Northwest Water Action Team, Southwest Water Task Force, Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority, Tulsa Area Water Summit, Oka’ Institute, Oklahoma Municipal League, Arbuckle-Simpson Drought Contingency planning group, Arbuckle Lake Watershed planning group, Foss Reservoir Drought Contingency Task Force, and others. The Produced Water Working Group (PWWG) made significant progress on its study to identify spatially proximate sources and beneficial uses of produced water and potential regulatory changes required to allow for the reuse of produced water. NOAA, with other federal and state agencies, finalized the Southern Plains Drought Early Warning System Strategic Plan. OWRB water quality standards staff, along with other agencies, stakeholders, and consulting engineers completed initial rules to establish the regulatory framework necessary to increase our State’s water storage capacity through aquifer storage and recovery projects.

As always, a special thanks goes to our staff for their giving and community involvement. Employees surpassed an $8,500 goal to raise nearly $17,000 as “Pacesetters” in this year’s United Way Campaign in addition to their Salvation Army campaign through the Angel Tree Gift Program and bell ringing fundraiser.

I am also proud to announce the OWRB was once again named a winner of The Oklahoman’s “Top Oklahoma Workplaces Award” in 2016. Thanks to the anonymous input of our employees, we are the only state agency to have received this distinction for four consecutive years.

Finally, I’d like to recognize the contributions of Lenora James and Derek Smithee, who retired in 2016. We truly miss them and thank them both for dedicating their careers to the management and protection of Oklahoma’s water resources.

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