J. D. Strong
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 his unique viewpoint on pertinent state water issues and discuss various OWRB activities and events.
3rd Quarter, 2016
Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited for saying, “change is the only constant in life.” What a brilliantly simple, yet relentlessly true, declaration. And so it is that change comes to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, just as it has over the 59 years of this agency’s existence. In fact, change is the only thing that has allowed the OWRB to remain relevant and successful in serving the great citizens of this state.
When I joined the OWRB family as a summer “temp” in 1993, I knew this was a special place. Sure, the agency was loaded with highly educated professionals that performed top-notch work in their respective fields, but what I quickly came to realize was the sense of pride everyone took in their work, the strong passion everyone had to serve the public, and the genuine concern everyone had for their co-workers. The OWRB was, and still is, a special place, not just because of its amazing accomplishments, but mostly because of the goodness at its core. If it’s possible for an agency to have a big heart, this is it.
Perhaps it was forged from the fire that was the Murrah Building bombing in 1995, which took the lives of two amazing OWRB employees and injured so many others. The OWRB heart could have beat strongly before that, but I definitely took note of it in my second year on the job when this horrific disaster struck. Like all Oklahomans that banded together and demonstrated to the world what became known as the “Oklahoma Standard,” OWRB employees rallied around each other to lick their wounds, honor their fallen comrades, and pick each other back up in what I witnessed as a phoenix-like rebirth. It definitely was a time of significant change, yet also a catapult for monumental achievement in the ensuing years.
Fast forward to 2010 – the year this once minimum-wage-earning summer “temp” from western Oklahoma had the honor of being hired to serve as OWRB director. At that time, the agency was in the throes of wrapping up what has become a nationally-renowned comprehensive water plan and taking drastic measures to resolve a court judgment to pay debts owed to the Federal government for construction of Sardis Lake. The former ultimately resulted in the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan that now serves as a blueprint for securing Oklahoma’s water future through at least 2060, and the latter resulted in litigation with the Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma City. In just six short years, both have resulted in monumental accomplishments and major mile-markers in Oklahoma’s water history.
The Water Plan led to landmark legislation and activity beginning in 2012 that not only guides the OWRB’s actions today, but also serves as a launching pad for citizens with the pioneering spirit to drought-proof their communities. That year, Oklahoma citizens passed a constitutional amendment that enables the OWRB to continue providing financial assistance for critical water infrastructure for at least the next 50 years. The Legislature also passed the Water for 2060 Act, which established an ambitious goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than was used in 2010, yet placed an emphasis on meeting our young state’s growing demands for water through better efforts at conservation, reuse, alternative water sources, and other efficiency measures. The Water Plan also helped spawn a number of regional long-term water planning initiatives, three of which have completed plans today. The list goes on-and-on, but suffice it to say that Oklahoma’s water future is on much better footing thanks to the phenomenal Water Plan developed by OWRB’s scratch staff, numerous other agency partners, and hundreds of engaged Oklahomans.
Clearly, the OWRB’s action in 2010 to transfer water supply in Sardis Lake to Oklahoma City in exchange for them paying off the debt owed and ordered due by a Federal judge launched a conflict with two of our important tribal neighbors, but what ultimately resulted was a prime example of what can be accomplished when we focus on our common interest in a more prosperous Oklahoma. The recently announced Water Settlement between the State, Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma City is a crown jewel in Oklahoma water achievement, and there is no doubt it will serve our collective citizens well into the future. Balancing the water needs of a bustling Oklahoma City metropolitan area with the future needs of a thriving southeastern Oklahoma, including the water so critical to its unprecedented recreation and fishing opportunities, was not easy. But all parties ultimately realized it was necessary. It was in all of our best interests to strike that delicate balance. The Water Settlement is truly historic, and it will ensure that no region of Oklahoma has to sacrifice its well being for the prosperity of another region. Instead, we will help each other prosper and succeed—a goal to which every Oklahoman should aspire.
It’s an understatement to say that there are a lot of amazing OWRB accomplishments left out in the interest of time. Again, what’s more important than the accomplishments is the security of knowing that the OWRB passion for serving Oklahoma’s citizens and helping them to accomplish their dreams continues to burn strong. It permeates the agency and each of its employees, and no amount of controversy, litigation, budget cuts, or change in leadership can extinguish it. Even though I am jumping to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, I am at peace knowing the OWRB’s success was never about me. It has never been about one person. Our fellow Oklahomans are extremely fortunate to have nearly 100 OWRB employees that work fanatically to improve our collective standing and quality of life through sound stewardship of the public’s water resources. For this, we can all be thankful and content.
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Page last updated: October 17, 2016