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 2015
After historic levels of rain throughout May and early June, nearly five years of drought have been virtually eliminated across Oklahoma, at least for the time being. Given historical precipitation patterns and forecasts for the future, we know that more, possibly even more significant droughts are on the way.
Unfortunately, historically significant drought ended in equally significant flooding, and with it came a tragic loss of life and property damage. I’d like to the thank Oklahoma’s first responders and emergency management personnel for their dedication to keeping Oklahomans safe during the flood events. The OWRB’s Floodplain Management staff continues to work with both FEMA and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) participant communities throughout Oklahoma on data collection and damage assessments.
While we acknowledge the dangers of flooding, we must also be thankful for the benefits the heavy rain brought, including the filling of many near-empty reservoirs across western Oklahoma. This respite, however brief, gives us a great opportunity to redouble our efforts to prepare for the next prolonged drought we’ll undoubtedly face. Water officials and planners, agricultural producers, industrial water users, and many other Oklahomans must continue to conserve water, plan for the worst, and improve infrastructure for the inevitable time when flood waters are a distant memory.
In addition to record-breaking precipitation, May also saw the end of another session of the Oklahoma State Legislature and the release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (COE) final “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. First, the 2015 legislative session was largely devoted to budget concerns. With the exception of a 5.5% cut in state appropriations to the OWRB, the session was mostly positive. Importantly, the Legislature ultimately approved the OWRB’s proposed rules, including updates to Oklahoma’s water quality standards and the OWRB’s financial assistance programs. Governor Fallin signed the OWRB’s proposed rules on June 8, and they are expected to take effect later this fall.
Secondly, the EPA and COE announced their final rule for defining WOTUS under the Clean Water Act (CWA) on May 27. It was published in the Federal Register on June 29, which means it will be the law of the land on August 28. My biggest concern has always been that the final rule effectively cuts off states as co-regulators and ends warranted debate on myriad practical and scientific concerns with the proposed definition of WOTUS. Unfortunately, the absence of productive consultation with State regulators has lead to a final rule that will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. If the final rule and its forthcoming implementation don’t make the already fuzzy line of Federal jurisdiction more clear, then we can expect an onslaught of litigation and confusion that does nothing to protect our waters.
The spring was not solely devoted to state and federal policy-making. On April 19th, the citizens of Oklahoma gathered for the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing to honor and remember the victims, survivors, rescuers and all who were affected by the “worst home-grown act of terrorism on American soil.” As many know, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board family was physically, emotionally, and tragically impacted by the unfathomable violence perpetrated that day. As we do every year, the OWRB participated in a number of events related to the remembrance of all those affected or lost that tragic day-—including the OWRB’s own Trudy Rigney and Bob Chipman. In addition to holding the annual remembrance vigil and ribbon ceremony on the OWRB’s grounds, it was inspiring to see the agency enter 31 runners for various events in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
In conclusion, I’m excited to announce that we have finalized the dates and location for the 36th Annual Governor’s Water Conference. This year’s conference will be held December 1-2 at the Embassy Suites Convention Center Hotel in Norman, OK. We are looking forward to another great conference this year.
The rainy season is upon us, yet the state has unfortunately entered into year five of drought. To put this timeline in perspective, Oklahoma’s worst drought on record measured approximately seven years during the 1950s—a sobering thought as nearly three million Oklahomans and many communities across the western half of the state continue to struggle with current or imminent water shortages. Without doubt, current drought conditions painfully remind Oklahoma’s citizens, public officials, and water planners about the need to plan ahead, to conserve more water, to manage the water we have more efficiently, to focus on badly needed infrastructure improvements, and to educate our fellow Oklahomans on our respective roles in overcoming these water challenges.
With spring also comes the state legislative session, and it is indeed a busy time at the Capitol. While a few water policy issues continue to simmer, one of the most important issues facing the OWRB this legislative session will be the finalization of the state budget, which will ultimately dictate the agency’s operating budget for the coming fiscal year. As they do continually throughout the year, each OWRB program coordinator is reviewing opportunities to garner any available savings and efficiencies to address looming budget challenges. Our team continues to meet with legislative leaders and committees to discuss the OWRB’s ongoing efforts to provide the best possible service to Oklahomans regardless of budgetary circumstances, as well as the growing importance of our efforts given the current drought conditions faced by more than two-thirds of the state. We also remind legislators that even if the state weren’t facing a fifth year of crippling drought, Oklahoma communities would continue to seek our water planning expertise, resource data, and infrastructure financial assistance.
Beyond the budget, most water legislation proposed at the beginning of the session is now dormant after failing to meet deadlines. We continue to follow HB 1116, an attempt to get badly needed water to a rural water district adjacent to the Lexington Correctional Facility, as well as HB 1420, which repeals several outdated and unused sections of the Weather Modification Act. Furthering the goals of Oklahoma’s Water for 2060 initiative, HB 1826 seeks to expand the use of gray water, while HJR 1013 expresses the legislature’s opposition to the new “Waters of the United States” regulation proposed by the EPA and Corps of Engineers.
At the national level, I recently visited Washington, D.C., with my colleagues on the Western States Water Council to meet with key congressional members, committee staff, and federal agency partners. It was also a great opportunity to discuss Oklahoma water issues with our delegation, all of whom are to be commended for their hard work and commitment to Oklahoma’s water resources. During the meetings, I was accompanied by the OWRB’s new Director of Federal and Congressional Affairs, Britnee Preston. Brittnee comes to the OWRB from Congressman Markwayne Mullin’s office where she served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director. It is evident that she is well-respected in Washington, D.C. Her proven ability to navigate the complexities of Congress and the federal government is invaluable, and the OWRB is fortunate to have Brittnee on the team.
In addition to legislative initiatives, the OWRB and partners recently hosted the 10th annual Water Appreciation Day at the State Capitol on March 11. During the event, Governor Mary Fallin honored us by presenting to local representatives from Shattuck, Fort Supply, and Boise City recently authorized Water for 2060 Drought Grant checks. Throughout the day and during the check presentation, we sought to showcase the significant impact that conservation and efficient infrastructure can make by saving several million gallons of water annually in rural, drought-impacted communities that don’t have the resources to address their water infrastructure needs.
Personally, I enjoy Water Appreciation Day most because of the opportunity to showcase the many groups and agencies that collaborate every day to ensure that all Oklahomans have continued access to safe, reliable water supplies to use and enjoy in a multitude of ways. The event also serves as an important reminder that even as we endure our fifth year of drought, the OWRB and many other Oklahomans remain committed to developing drought-proof strategies in the near term and formulating long-term planning solutions to prepare for inevitable droughts of the future.
Another productive and rewarding year is in the books for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and on behalf of our staff here I hope each of you had a great holiday season and will have an even better year to come.
First, I’d like to thank all the attendees, sponsors, speakers, and staff for making this year’s 35th Annual Governor’s Water Conference & Research Symposium a resounding success. I especially want to thank Governor Mary Fallin, US Congressmen Frank Lucas and Markwayne Mullin, Senator-elect James Lankford, as well as our keynote speaker, Patricia Mulroy, and a multitude of other presenters. I also appreciate our Symposium partners, OSU’s Oklahoma Water Resources Center, for their contributions to making the conference Oklahoma’s premiere water policy and research event. And last but not least, congratulations again to our 2014 Oklahoma Water Pioneers, Jack Keeley and Mike Thralls.
I hope everyone enjoyed our format this year, especially with the added focus on roundtable discussions and more opportunities to engage presenters and ask questions. I particularly enjoyed moderating our final session on water rights administration in Oklahoma. In any discussion, whether on topics ranging from water rights to drought preparedness, it’s always important to have diverse perspectives from experts who are working closely on these issues every day. We’re already looking forward to another great conference next year, so I hope you will join us again.
As always, there are several important agency initiatives from 2014 that will continue throughout 2015, many of which you’ll see noted in the “Annual Report” portion of this issue of the Water News. Of particular note, the Water for 2060 Advisory Council held its fourth meeting of the year on November 18. The Council focused on finalizing the draft recommendations for the public water supply, crop irrigation, and industrial/power generation/oil and gas sectors. It was a productive session, and the Council is still on target to complete its report by the fall of 2015 for submission to the Governor and Legislature. I encourage you to check out some of the new resources we’ve created on the OWRB’s Water for 2060 information page at www.owrb.ok.gov/2060.
Another important development from the past few months is the finalization of this year’s updates to the OWRB’s Strategic Plan for 2016-2020. Each year, the OWRB undertakes the strategic planning process to make sure we’ve set a clear path for successfully meeting our mission on behalf of all Oklahoma citizens. I invite you to review the OWRB’s Strategic Plan in the “About Us” section of our website.
I’m especially proud of this year’s iteration of the Strategic Plan as each of our four Divisions have really taken ownership of the overall agency mission and goals, as well as what the plan outlines for each of their respective programs. The divisions also wanted to ensure that the objectives and key performance measures outlined in the Plan are closely aligned with the Priority and Supporting Recommendations featured in the 2012 Update of Oklahoma’s Comprehensive Water Plan. The result, in my opinion, is that we have an agency strategy that is a cohesive and effective resource for managing the OWRB’s multitude of programs and projects.
As we close the chapter on 2014, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge some important personnel changes and staff activities from the last year. First, the OWRB became a two-time winner of The Oklahoman’s “Top Oklahoma Workplaces Award.” We remain the only state agency to have achieved the distinction for two consecutive years. As Governor Fallin said herself, “Once again, the OWRB epitomizes the type of efficient and responsible government that our citizens deserve.” However, most important to me is the fact that the OWRB was named a Top Workplace as a result of the anonymous, candid results of employee surveys.
Also, a special thanks to our OWRB staff for another banner year of giving and community involvement. As anyone who follows the OWRB on Twitter has likely seen (follow us at @OKWaterBoard), our employees are committed to public service both in their careers and on their own dime. Whether it’s volunteering for educational programs like ScienceFest and H2Oklahoma, surpassing our agency-wide goal in the State Charitable Campaign, bell-ringing to raise money for the Salvation Army of Oklahoma, or participating in the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s Day of Caring event, our staff gives back with impressive generosity. I’m extremely fortunate to work with a close-knit family of employees that always sacrifices for the betterment of others.
And last but never least, several dear friends and colleagues here at the OWRB retired and moved on to bigger and better pastures. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge the contributions of our 2014 retirees: Jerry “Rowdy” Barnett, Barry Fogerty, Anita Ray, Kim Sullivan, Brian Vance, and Shelly Whitmire. Thanks to each of you, and indeed to all of our retirees, for helping shape the OWRB into an agency that serves the public with such distinction and commitment.
Summer is winding down, and it’s probably been one of the mildest that I can remember in a long time. With the the milder temps and most welcome moisture through most of June and July, many Oklahomans may have forgotten that there are still large swaths of western Oklahoma facing the crippling effects of four years of drought.
Fortunately, Governor Fallin’s recent announcement of the Water for 2060 Drought Grant Program is welcome news. Through the grant program, we will have $1.5 million available for cities, counties, water districts, and other public entities to help fund drought relief projects that highlight responsible use of water. Those interested should apply for grants prior to the November 26, 2014 deadline. With the grant program announcement, the Water for 2060 Advisory Council’s work throughout the summer, the OWRB and Bureau of Reclamation’s Drought Challenge event in September, several water-related interim studies at the State Legislature, and planning for the 35th annual Governor’s Water Conference in October, it remains an exciting and busy time at the Water Board.
This summer the Water for 2060 Advisory Council continued work with its fourth meeting on August 19th. The meeting focused on water conservation practices and technology for industrial water use—specifically related to electrical power generation, oil and gas production, and other related industries. In addition to the meeting, several members of the Advisory Council joined the Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigation Association, the City of Guymon, and many other Panhandle stakeholders for a field tour in early August of various water conservation initiatives in the region. The Council will meet again on November 18th to begin finalizing recommendations to the Governor and Legislature on how Oklahoma can achieve its ambitious goal of consuming no more freshwater in 2060 than was consumed in 2010.
If the theme in August was largely related to the Water for 2060 Advisory Council, then drought was the focus for a number of events in September. On September 16, the OWRB and the Bureau of Reclamation teamed up to present Oklahoma’s first-ever Drought Challenge at the National Weather Center in Norman. The Drought Challenge was an exciting new approach to promoting drought mitigation and planning. By using a competition format and a fictional water basin as the backdrop, the Drought Challenge aimed to encourage collaboration among water planners and users from various backgrounds and different parts of the state.
The Drought Challenge preceded a two-day Drought Forum hosted by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), Governor Mary Fallin, and the Office of the Secretary of Energy and Environment. Oklahoma kicked off the first of five planned WGA Drought Forum meetings by hosting “Managing Drought in the Energy Sector” at the National Weather Center on September 18-19. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, WGA’s current Chairman, created the Drought Forum series as part of the WGA Chairman’s Initiative to foster a regional dialogue in which states and industry can share best practices on drought policy, preparedness, and management.
The Drought Challenge and the WGA Drought Forum weren’t the only recent events to take a detailed look at water-related issues. The leadership of both the State House and Senate approved several water-focused interim studies for the late summer and fall. These interim studies are important forums during the legislative “offseason” for providing our state’s elected officials with the opportunity to investigate a multitude of important issues facing water planning and water use throughout Oklahoma.
So far, I’ve had the honor of presenting at State Representative Steve Vaughn’s interim study on groundwater use related to energy production in Oklahoma. In October, there will be additional interim studies that either focus on water solely, or that feature water-related topics on their periphery. For example, at an upcoming interim study to be lead by State Representatives Mark McBride and Jon Echols in October, I will provide attendees with an update on all that has been accomplished, as well as all that remains to be completed, since the 2012 Update of the Comprehensive Water Plan was completed. I look forward to providing the panel with several remaining legislative opportunities that are included in the OCWP’s list of Priority and Supporting Recommendations.
Last, but never least, it’s the time of year when we are fast approaching the 35th Annual Governor’s Water Conference and Research Symposium. The theme for this year’s conference is “Every Drop Counts.” For a complete picture of this year’s water conference, which will be held October 22-23 at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City, please check the OWRB’s conference page regularly for updates. As always, we have a great lineup of speakers, presentations, and forums this year, including a keynote address from Patricia Mulroy, principal architect and former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Governor Mary Fallin; Congressmen James Lankford, Frank Lucas, and Markwayne Mullin; EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Sam Coleman; and a number of other regional and national figures are also scheduled to discuss a wide-range of water-related topics.
To register, visit our website at www.owrb.ok.gov/GWC or call us at 405-530-8800. Please take note that our next Board meeting has been moved to coincide with that event following adjournment on the conference’s last day.
Summer is officially in full swing, which means another session of the Oklahoma Legislature is behind us. With the exception of a 5.5% cut in state appropriations to the OWRB and most other agencies, the 2014 session was mostly positive. Importantly, the Legislature ultimately failed to act on the OWRB’s proposed rules, including important well-spacing rules for sensitive sole-source aquifers like the Arbuckle-Simpson. After Board approval last March, agency rules were submitted to the State Legislature for consideration. Though the Legislature failed to act on the OWRB’s proposed rule package, along with those of most other state agencies, recent law changes provide the Governor with final authority to certify them as approved or not approved. I am pleased to report that Governor Fallin approved the OWRB’s proposed rules on June 19, and they are expected to take effect later this fall.
In other water policy news, every legislator I met with this session remained focused on the affects of the state’s on-going drought. This focus, reflected in a number of proposed bills, was most apparent in the Legislature’s appropriation of an additional $1.5 million for emergency drought grants despite the slight decrease in funds for agency appropriations. We look forward to working with community water systems in the most drought ravaged parts of Oklahoma to help them develop more reliable water supplies for our citizens. Additional help in this regard should come from SB 1187 by Senator Rob Standridge and Representative Scott Martin, which calls for a more expedited process for water reuse projects in Oklahoma. Several communities across the state have expressed increasing interest in water reuse projects as a means to combat water shortages and develop alternative supplies. Ultimately signed into law by Governor Fallin on May 28, SB 1187 aligns nicely with the mission of Oklahoma’s Water for 2060.
While on the subject, the Water for 2060 Advisory Council held its third meeting on May 20 to focus largely on compiling and prioritizing recommendations on water conservation best-practices and technology for both irrigators and public water systems. The next meeting will be held early this fall and will feature presentations on commercial and industrial water conservation. The council’s final report is due to the State Legislature by the end of 2015, and I have no doubt we will meet that deadline. The Water for 2060 Advisory Council’s work is even more significant as we witness the continued impacts that long-term drought is having on fresh water supplies in many Oklahoma communities.
Speaking of the drought, some much-needed rain fell in May and June in areas of the state that had received relatively no precipitation for many months. According to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, May 21 was an important turning point for much of the state’s drought impacted areas. In fact, the period from May 21 to June 17 was the 24th wettest period since at least 1921 with an average of 5.49 inches of observed rainfall across the state. Even so, much of southern Oklahoma has seen lower rain totals during this short-term “wet” period, and the long-term drought remains firmly in place throughout a large portion of Oklahoma. The OWRB recently launched a drought related website—drought.ok.gov—to help bring together the most commonly used state and federal drought related tools and information. I encourage you to check it often and to send us any drought related information you’d like to see added.
On the Federal front, I had the honor of testifying to Congress in mid-June on behalf of the Western Governors’ Association, Western States Water Council and the State of Oklahoma. The Water and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing focused on the EPA and Corps of Engineers’ proposed rule for defining “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). My testimony focused on the lack of meaningful consultation between the Federal agencies and the states. As co-regulators of the CWA, multiple programs that are administered by the OWRB and ODEQ could be significantly impacted by the proposed definition. Similarly, many water users, businesses, agriculture producers, and public water systems will be impacted by this new definition and its concomitant regulatory ramifications. While the Corps and EPA’s stated goal for this rule is to bring greater clarification to the WOTUS definition, the lack of consultation with states and myriad ambiguous provisions in the current proposed rule leave me convinced we may be better off without it.
In conclusion, I’m excited to announce that we have finalized the dates and location for the 35th Annual Governor’s Water Conference. This year’s conference will be held October 22-23 at the Renaissance Hotel and Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City. Already, we are booking an exciting lineup of speakers and looking forward to another great conference with our fellow Oklahomans.
From our friends at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, I just learned that March was the 7th consecutive month—and the 30th out of the last 42—that Oklahoma’s statewide average precipitation total dipped below normal. Since this devastating drought began around October 2010, the cumulative statewide precipitation deficit is 29 inches.
There appears to be no end to the drought, which is already responsible for billions of dollars in damages to the state’s economy. While all Oklahomans hope and pray that conditions improve, Water Board staff work tirelessly to address an increasing number of drought-related issues. We are processing a record number of permit applications—many within days of receipt—and responding to dozens of citizen complaints.
Fortunately for particularly hard-hit areas of western Oklahoma, on March 20, the Oklahoma Emergency Drought Relief Commission awarded more than $1 million to the community water systems of Altus, Guymon, Hollis, and Tipton. These Emergency Drought Relief grants, which were made available through Governor Fallin’s drought declaration in those respective counties last October, should at least temper local impacts through implementation of much-needed drought mitigation and related water projects. In addition to the Governor’s leadership, this critically important funding received strong support from Senators Mike Schulz, Don Barrington, and Bryce Marlatt, as well as State Representatives Don Armes, Charles Ortega, and Gus Blackwell, whose districts are currently facing exceptional drought-related problems.
Speaking of Sen. Shulz, his Drought Proof Communities Act of 2014 (Senate Bill 1430) has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Appropriation and Budget Committee. The proposed act would improve the OWRB’s ability to provide financial assistance to small communities with aging and deteriorating water infrastructure. Monies appropriated through the act to the OWRB’s Financial Assistance Program would be expended solely for the benefit of public systems serving fewer than 7,000 customers with priority afforded to municipalities or rural water districts serving less than 1,750 customers. Available monies may also be expended for community efforts to identify drought vulnerabilities and implement various water conservation strategies, including system water loss audits, implementation of water reuse, and related measures.
In February, Water for 2060 Advisory Council members heard from Fred Fischer, a Panhandle irrigator and member of the Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigation Association. Joined by Jerry Wiebe, fellow Panhandle irrigator and council member, and Mark Nichols, former OWRB chairman from the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District, the three gentlemen provided impressive examples of conservation measures that are collectively resulting in significantly reduced water usage. The crop irrigation sector, which is responsible for almost 40 percent of statewide water use, will play a major role in achieving our statewide goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than we consume today. OWRB staff and partners attending last month’s “Hot Spot” meeting in Goodwell were also afforded an opportunity to tour Mr. Fischer’s state-of-the-art farming operation.
The Hot Spot meetings, hosted by the OWRB in March and April, provided us with invaluable public input as we research the most effective ways to address anticipated water supply deficits in our most water-challenged areas. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that so many Oklahoma citizens are open to expansion of water recycling and reuse projects. These projects have tremendous promise in reducing Oklahoma’s water footprint and will no doubt be well-represented in the Water for 2060 Advisory Council’s final report to the Governor and Legislature in 2015.
Prompted by a 2003 law change and informed by more than a decade of study, numerous public meetings with citizens and stakeholders, and a meticulous hearing process, OWRB members voted in October to approve staff’s recommendation setting a new 0.2 acre-feet per acre per year (AFY) equal proportionate share (EPS) withdrawal rate for the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer. The decision—long-awaited by many, especially those living in and around the south central Oklahoma region—was both a controversial and consequential one.
The Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer is the sole drinking water source for many cities and towns, including Ada and Sulphur, a vital component of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and key to the overall economic prosperity of south central Oklahoma. While the OWRB is typically guided by the state’s long-standing groundwater law in conducting maximum annual yield investigations of Oklahoma’s major groundwater basins, heightened concern for the Arbuckle-Simpson required that its study incorporate a whole new level of complexity—a legislative mandate to establish a withdrawal rate that would not reduce the natural flows of area springs and streams. That requirement not only necessitated an unprecedented level of data collection and monitoring, as well as significant funding to accomplish that work, but also revealed from the outset that the final EPS would likely result in much tighter restrictions on future withdrawals from the aquifer.
Prior to deliberating the action that would reduce the aquifer’s EPS to one-tenth of its current default withdrawal limit, OWRB Board members were required to carefully consider the rippling impacts of their decision. At the Board meeting, parties on each side of the issue—including municipal officials; representatives of the Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer (CPASA), National Park Service, and Nature Conservancy; and legal counsel for local landowners—were provided a final opportunity to express their views. Chief among their concerns was implementation, specifically the time allotted for water users to address the considerable need for additional water and property rights and related management issues. In the end, exhibiting confidence in the work of countless experts and OWRB staff, along with the promise that the agency would develop a fair and sensible implementation strategy, the Board approved the new EPS.
As evidenced by three subsequent court filings, not everyone agrees with the Board’s decision, declaring that the number should be higher or lower, that it should be slightly more or less protective of the resource. But what can’t be argued is that sound science and data—utilizing the unique parameters mandated under Senate Bill 288—led to a fair and logical conclusion. On both the science and legal/policy front, the process was strengthened by experienced professionals utilizing the latest technology, extensive public information, and a well-planned rule-making and hearing procedure.
From a more general viewpoint, widespread interest in the Arbuckle-Simpson issue points out an encouraging trend. As we witnessed in developing the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, citizens are now more aware of water-related issues. And they are more vocal than ever before in advocating their particular interests in Oklahoma’s surface and groundwater supplies. As I’ve said many times before, the subject of water isn’t going away anytime soon. And that’s a good thing.
In late October, the OWRB and Water Resources Research Center co-hosted another great Water Conference where more than 400 conferees heard from various state and national speakers. In addition to two fascinating roundtable sessions, discussion of prospects for drought in the state and region, and exploration of various conservation successes, the concurrent Research Symposium provided a forum for researchers and academia to present the latest in water research. And it was a great pleasure to present a predecessor of mine, former OWRB Director Patty Eaton, and long-time U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, Bob Blazs, with 2013 Oklahoma Water Pioneer Awards.
The OWRB also received incredible recognition recently when the agency was named one of The Oklahoman’s Top Workplaces—the only state agency among 50 organizations. The list was compiled solely from employee surveys. It’s an enormous honor that directly reflects the supreme professionalism of our employees, both past and present, and unique pride they have for the OWRB.
As temperatures drop, the irrigation season winds down, and communities ease up on their water usage, the multi-year Oklahoma drought continues to hang on. In September, folks in many areas—including, surprisingly, the Panhandle—received much-needed rainfall, which provided some temporary relief. Unfortunately, southwest Oklahoma wasn’t so lucky, and it remains the most consistently dry region of the state since the beginning of the current drought episode in late 2010. Still, much of our state remains in drought, reminding us yet again that only time, and a lot of rainfall events, can bring us out of such dire, long-term disasters. And should the drought suddenly “end,” the devastating impact to Oklahoma’s economy will extend for years.
While we can’t make it rain, the state will soon be in a much better position both to provide an immediate helping hand to those ravaged by drought and to make our communities and rural areas more resistant to future drought events. The new Emergency Drought Relief Fund, approved last legislative session, makes $3 million available for drought mitigation and projects. We are working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and Conservation Commission to determine project eligibility and expenditure guidance.
The first meeting of the Water for 2060 Advisory Council was held on August 20 at the OWRB. While this get-together primarily served to provide initial guidance to the 14 appointed members, we had excellent discourse about how potential conservation measures might impact various water users and constituency groups. It is evident to me that their minds are wide open to the consideration of new conservation strategies, incentives, and technologies as well as the creation of “new” supplies through utilization of unconventional water sources. I’m excited to lead this exceptional group over the next few years as we work cooperatively to develop Oklahoma’s first statewide water conservation plan.
I want to congratulate Michael Teague, who Governor Fallin recently appointed as Oklahoma’s first Cabinet Secretary of Energy and Environment. Secretary Teague brings unique experience to this new combined post. As the recent District Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Tulsa District, he was the leader of one of the OWRB’s most important planning partners. I look forward to working closely with Secretary Teague on the many issues facing our water supplies as a critically important element in both energy production and environmental sustainability in Oklahoma.
At the same time, I will miss Gary Sherrer, Oklahoma’s former Secretary of Environment, who stepped down on July 1 to pursue other interests. As Gov. Fallin stated in her announcement, Gary was especially gifted in obtaining consensus among people with diverse interests and agendas. He remains a model of dedicated public service.
On another related note, I welcome Col. Richard Pratt, who assumes the Corps’ leadership role in the Tulsa District region. Both Col. Pratt and Secretary Teague will speak back-to-back during the October 22 Governor’s Water Conference luncheon.
For a complete picture of the 34th Annual Governor’s Water Conference, which will be held October 22-23 at the Reed Center in Midwest City, refer to the draft agenda in this issue of the “Water News.” We’ve got yet another impressive lineup, including keynote speaker Steve Solomon, author of “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.” Also appearing will be Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry, and a number of other national figures to discuss wide-ranging water topics. To register, visit the OWRB’s website or call us at 405-530-8800. In conclusion, please take note that our next Board meeting has been moved to coincide with that event following adjournment on the last day.
While the recently concluded legislative session was relatively quiet on the water front—especially compared to last year’s flood of landmark water legislation—there were a few measures of note.
HB 2193 outlines procedures for the OWRB to properly administer the new Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund. The Fund, authorized through passage of State Question 764 last November, enables Oklahoma to meet its projected $82 billion water and wastewater infrastructure needs through 2060, a priority initiative of the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan.
SB 965, which transitions the nine-member OWRB Board from its long-standing Congressional District and at-large representation to a new regional scheme, passed by one vote just before the Legislature adjourned on May 24. This change loosely mirrors the eight 1995 OCWP planning regions plus a ninth in the Panhandle. The measure takes effect in 2014 and will be slowly phased in over the coming years.
A new Emergency Drought Relief Fund, enabled through HB 1923, includes $3 million for future drought mitigation and projects. While details have yet to be resolved, in the event of a gubernatorial drought declaration, expenditures will be approved through an Emergency Drought Commission consisting of the Secretary of Agriculture and Executive Directors of the OWRB and Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
While no bills were passed to implement a true regional water planning program, the most popular recommendation of the OCWP and the only priority initiative yet to be implemented, last year’s increased appropriations to implement OCWP priorities were left intact. And not only were efforts to repeal the groundbreaking Water for 2060 Act soundly rejected, all appointments have now been made to the Advisory Council envisioned under that legislation, passed last year. Lastly, all of the OWRB’s new rules, including those to implement the new mining pit water regulations in the Arbuckle-Simpson, were approved by the Governor and Legislature.
There have been several recent developments of note in lawsuits involving the OWRB. Of course, Oklahoma’s resounding victory in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann is first and foremost.
Following presentation of oral arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court on April 23, the justices deliberated the complicated details of interstate water apportionment envisioned under the Red River Compact. Oklahoma’s case was strong, as nine other states formally supported our position while Tarrant received such support from only one state: its home state of Texas. These states, including two other Red River Compact members, share our view that Tarrant is wrong in its interpretation of our long-settled agreement over the apportionment of shared waters. The court’s favorable decision, announced June 13, will end, once and for all, the repeated attempts by North Texas entities to undermine Oklahoma’s water management authority.
In late April, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling in the lawsuit brought against the OWRB and its ongoing process for determining the maximum annual yield for the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer. While the Court directed the OWRB’s hearing examiner to provide the parties with additional notice and opportunity to respond to certain communications, we are encouraged that they generally upheld the integrity of our hearing process. We remain hopeful this important matter can be brought to the Board for final consideration very soon.
While last year’s unprecedented passage of water legislation provides reassurance that Oklahoma is on a constructive path toward a more secure water future, this current session has been much more subdued from a water perspective. As always, OWRB staff are assisting our lawmakers as they address constantly evolving water issues, especially in light of a third straight year of statewide drought.
Notable bills filed early on referenced such topics as individual drought relief funding for farmers, ranchers and other rural citizens, establishment of regional water planning groups, wastewater reuse, and expanded Water Board membership and representation. Some of these ideas were included in priority and supporting initiatives identified in the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan and deserve attention.
The OWRB continues working with the Legislature to foster measures that protect and improve Oklahoma’s water resources, especially the Water for 2060 Act, which was sponsored last session by House Speaker Kris Steele and passed with bipartisan support. This forward-thinking legislation arose from one of the Water Plan’s most fundamental grassroots suggestions in recommending water usage levels and conservation measures for the next half century. The Act establishes a statewide conservation goal, a funding mechanism for pilot conservation projects, and an advisory council to contemplate incentives and other measures that have promise in reducing Oklahoma’s water footprint. Conservation, our cheapest source of water, remains Oklahoma’s most viable and accessible planning strategy to avoid inevitable water deficits.
A commitment to conservation, along with dependable infrastructure, is our best defense against drought. By now, we should all be familiar with the extreme variability of Oklahoma’s precipitation, both geographically and on an annual basis. What better example is there than this ongoing drought episode, which comes right on the heels of the longest sustained period of statewide precipitation in more than a century? We must all resist the tendency to accept these last few decades of plentiful water resources as “normal” and become lackadaisical—at precisely the wrong time if history is any indication—in planning for an inevitable and perhaps just as lengthy period of dryness.
On a related note, the OCWP Instream Flow Workgroup reconvened on March 1. You may recall that the group was originally commissioned during the OCWP update process to conduct an independent technical, legal, and policy analysis of a potential instream flow program in Oklahoma. At this initial meeting, we had some very beneficial discussion concerning the development of recommendations that effectively balance the water needs of consumptive users with those relying upon water in our streams and lakes for economic development and recreation.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who participated in our annual Water Appreciation Day at the State Capitol on March 19. Each year, this popular event serves to remind Oklahomans that dozens of state and federal water organizations are constantly working on their behalf and improving the management and protection of Oklahoma’s invaluable water resources. I am personally reminded each Water Day how proud I am to lead a key agency in this worthwhile endeavor.
It was great to return to Tulsa for the Governor’s Water Conference in November. Once again, we had an extraordinary turnout and stimulating discourse on Oklahoma’s water issues. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Jr., and Dayton Duncan, principle writer and co-producer of the newly released Dust Bowl documentary, got the conference off to a wonderful start, and our unique “roundtable” sessions highlighted a particularly diverse agenda.
It has been an eventful year since unanimous OWRB approval of the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP). Many OCWP recommendations that originated from the public input process are now being implemented due to tremendous support from Governor Fallin and the State Legislature. New legislation has provided the impetus and tools that will help ensure reliable supplies of water for all Oklahomans through 2060 and beyond, while also making Oklahoma a leader among western states in the water management arena.
Seven years ago, as OWRB staff developed the early blueprint for the 2012 OCWP Update, we deliberated several different paths. Clearly, we would need to conduct a comprehensive inventory of Oklahoma’s water supplies and project future demands for all water use sectors. This necessitated an analysis at the local or system level using hydrologic, rather than political, boundaries. At that time, we were aware that the state’s public water supply infrastructure was ill-equipped to address its rapidly growing population. We would need to assess the projected needs of the state’s water and wastewater facilities and identify funding mechanisms sufficient to meet these needs. All of this information would then be used to identify options—including development of new sources, augmentation of existing supplies, or improved management schemes—that could prevent projected water deficits or “gaps” wherever they were likely to occur.
While the technical aspects of our planning strategy were sound, it was clear to us from the outset that OCWP success would rest entirely upon involving Oklahomans in the process, listening to their concerns, and obtaining grassroots support. To meet this challenge, we teamed with the Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute and fanned out across the state to document constructive opinions of Oklahoma citizens regarding the most pressing water-related issues. The resulting product, refined and submitted to intense scrutiny at more than a hundred public meetings, became the basis for OCWP recommendations, including eight priority initiatives that are now well on their way to implementation.
With this most recent OCWP update in place, the issue of water—as with the economy, energy, education, or roads—is here to stay in the public’s consciousness and discourse. On behalf of the Board, OWRB colleagues and planning partners, we are enormously encouraged to see how much importance Oklahomans now place on both the utilization and protection of their water resources.
We will certainly need continued support of OCWP initiatives, especially as we close the books on the warmest and driest year that most Oklahomans have ever experienced. Drought in Oklahoma should no longer be considered a “phenomenon” or unusual occurrence. We must expect it, prepare for it, and adjust to it through strengthened water policies and programs.
Through the Executive Report, 13 Watershed Planning Region Reports, and other OCWP products resulting from the detailed analysis of water resources, limitations, and options statewide, the 2012 OCWP Update provides an invaluable source of information for dealing with drought and related water supply issues. Water managers and decision-makers at every level can benefit from this extensive groundwork as they develop plans for meeting their long-term water needs well into the future.
In conclusion, I’d like to remind everyone that our annual Water Appreciation Day will be held March 19 at the State Capitol. I encourage everyone to join us as water agencies and organizations gather to demonstrate the infinite importance of Oklahoma’s water resources.
In July, I had the honor of testifying before the congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to provide one state’s viewpoint on the value of drought monitoring and forecasting specific to implementation of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). With virtually the entire nation suffering from an extended drought episode and our weather prediction capabilities more refined than ever, establishment of an effective drought early warning system has never been more important, or more within our grasp. This is one of the primary federal directives of NIDIS, created in 2006 to improve the coordination of meaningful drought research and prediction.
Oklahoma, like the nation in general, remains largely vulnerable to the vagaries of drought and its considerable economic and social impacts. Drought is now largely accepted as a normal aspect of our climate. Reducing its impacts requires improved insight—targeted research, long-term monitoring, and development of tools that enhance our ability to predict the probability of drought, or at least detect its early onset, so that states can effectively prepare for these disasters. Through improved weather technology—bolstered in large part through our research community at the National Weather Center in Norman—and support from both the states and Congress, I am confident we can achieve this worthy goal.
Prediction aside, to truly address drought’s devastating impacts we must first change our attitudes. Typically, we ignore drought until the situation is dire, lament the impacts, and justifiably call for help. But invariably it rains, at which point we forget there was ever a problem and go back to business as usual. We must break this “hydro-illogical” cycle.
As recurring drought episodes become more disastrous, we must consider water conservation not as a short-term fix but a long-term necessity. The first step, enabled through a priority recommendation of the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP) and subsequent passage of the Water for 2060 Act, will be development of feasible strategies to maintain statewide consumption of fresh water at current levels through 2060. I am confident that we can reach this lofty goal, not just through additional conservation measures but also by implementing incentives to promote more widespread reuse and recycling of wastewater and desalination of brackish water. Such actions could delay or even alleviate localized water shortages projected by the OCWP.
It should be no surprise to anyone that conservation will also be a focus of this year’s Governor’s Water Conference, which will be held November 13-14 at the Southern Hills Marriott in Tulsa. In addition to sessions highlighting the latest developments related to water management and quality, infrastructure financing, and other essential water matters, we have invited speakers from all over the country and from many disciplines to detail innovative examples of water conservation, efficiency and reuse. Reflecting last session’s legislation, the Conference theme (as well as the state’s new conservation awareness initiative) is “Water for 2060.”
I am tremendously excited to announce that this year’s keynote address will be delivered by Dayton Duncan, an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker. Duncan’s latest film project, on which he served as principal writer, is entitled “The Dust Bowl,” a two-part series airing November 18 and 19 on the Public Broadcasting System and premiering, in part, at the Governor’s Water Conference. Collaborating with renowned documentarian Ken Burns, Duncan’s latest project provides a stark reminder of what previous generations of Oklahomans learned the hard way—conservation and wise use of our water and other natural resources is a basic necessity in preparing for the inevitable, devastating droughts to come.
With an agenda featuring something for everyone, I urge all Oklahomans to join us for two days of riveting water discussion. Registration is available via our website at www.owrb.ok.gov. See you in Tulsa!
Thanks to an unprecedented level of support from Governor Fallin, the State Legislature, citizens, and many in the water user community during the recently concluded legislative session, implementation of the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan is off to a magnificent start.
On the heels of the most scientifically defensible and extensively vetted Water Plan ever developed by the state, our leaders responded with perhaps the most meaningful collection of water policy legislation and funding in Oklahoma history. As a result, we now have both the directive and tools necessary to meet head-on Oklahoma’s water challenges through revitalized and innovative water management and protection programs.
Through passage of Speaker Kris Steele’s Water for 2060 Act, water conservation took a giant leap forward as Oklahoma becomes the first state in the nation to establish a comprehensive, statewide goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than is consumed today. Through House Bill 3055, a 15-member advisory council will be created to recommend appropriate water conservation practices, incentives, and educational programs to accomplish this bold strategy, while at the same time ensuring that Oklahoma’s population and economy continue to grow and prosper. In addition, HB 2835, by Rep. Scott Martin, will result in fresh water conservation through incentives to encourage the recycling of gray water. The resulting new law exempts from regulatory requirements the use of up to 250 gallons per day of private, residential gray water for household gardening, composting, or landscape irrigation.
Equally important was the required first step taken by legislators in addressing Oklahoma’s projected $82 billion water and wastewater infrastructure financing needs through HJR 1085 by Rep. Phil Richardson and Sen. Brian Crain. The resolution authorizes State Question 764 on the November general election ballot, which seeks voter approval of a new Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund. This crucial new fund would enable the OWRB, the primary source of water and sewer infrastructure financing in Oklahoma, to increase its leveraging capacity. Over the next several months, you’ll be hearing much more about SQ 764 and its importance to our ability to provide safe, dependable, and affordable water supplies to Oklahomans into the foreseeable future.
Last but certainly not least, the FY-2013 budget agreement includes specific funding to expand and integrate the state’s water quality and quantity monitoring programs, another key grass-roots provision of the OCWP. Sediment, pathogenic bacteria, toxic algae, and a host of other pollutants and contaminants threaten both Oklahoma’s water resources and our public’s health. The decisions we make each day to ensure safe, reliable water for our citizens and communities require constant monitoring of water quality and quantity, an abundance of data, and advanced modeling techniques. Such capabilities will be enabled through an additional $2 million in appropriations to the OWRB and Conservation Commission. Most notably, the OWRB will use a portion of the funding to establish the state’s first comprehensive groundwater monitoring program. The Legislature also extended utilization of Gross Production Tax proceeds for OCWP implementation, including support of planning partnership opportunities, updates of hydrologic studies, and enhancement of water management and modeling tools.
In all, accomplishments from the 2012 legislative session will accelerate implementation of at least half of the eight priority recommendations included in the 2012 OCWP Update (Water Quality and Quantity Monitoring; Water Supply Reliability; Water Conservation, Efficiency, Recycling and Reuse; and Water Project and Infrastructure Funding). Additional legislation providing for improved enforcement of water well drilling regulations and enhanced floodplain management rules address at least two OCWP supporting recommendations.
While we are off to a tremendous start on Water Plan implementation, much work remains to truly ensure the sound water future envisioned by the OCWP. Regional planning, for example, was the most popular Water Plan recommendation among citizen participants because it allows them to engage more formally in how water resources are planned at the local level and managed by the state. Unfortunately, enabling legislation was narrowly defeated due to the negative lobbying efforts of certain special interest groups. Additionally, we must redouble our efforts to work with Oklahoma’s tribal governments to resolve conflicting water issues and we still need to ensure adequate protection of instream flows that are so critical to state and local tourism economies. We look forward to working with our multitude of partners and leaders at the State Capitol to advance these critical issues as well.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations sued the State of Oklahoma in August, claiming they deserved control over the water resources in 22 counties in southeastern Oklahoma. If successful, the tribes would assume responsibility for Oklahoma’s most precious resource even though the state has provided more than 100 years of uninterrupted leadership experience in managing our waters and meeting our future water needs. Our laws and long legacy of water management ensure stability of water use and protection and avoid the potentially devastating economic consequences resulting from instability. The state has tried, and remains interested in, settling the dispute outside of court, but the tribes refuse to drop their lawsuit, thus sacrificing the security and prosperity of all Oklahomans.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has been serving Oklahomans as their water management authority since 1957. We take the job seriously. Our highest objective is to ensure certainty and security of water rights and associated uses. Consistent with this obligation, the OWRB and the state will defend our citizens against tribal claims with a general stream adjudication, which is well recognized among western states as the most effective, reliable way to resolve such disputes.
Through adjudication, which the tribes asked for more than a dozen times in their lawsuit, the Oklahoma Supreme Court will make a legal determination regarding the validity of all claims to the waters of the Kiamichi, Muddy Boggy, and Clear Boggy stream systems. The court will confirm the amount, priority, place, and purpose of each use. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the process should be relatively uncomplicated and should not require a lawyer for those holding permits. The state already has determined the amount, priority, place, and purpose of those permit holders’ uses.
While the process could be considerably more complicated for anyone claiming water rights without a permit (i.e., the tribes), there simply is no better way to afford every Oklahoman with water rights the equal and fair opportunity they deserve to protect those rights. All 18 western states have laws allowing for general stream adjudication, and 13 of those states have adjudications underway.
To confuse the matter and spread misleading information, the tribes have launched an unprecedented media campaign that questions state efforts to plan for and protect Oklahoma’s water resources. The tribes portray themselves as the true stewards of the water, but that does not square with the facts. Only the state possesses the authority and expertise to comprehensively manage and protect our citizens’ surface and groundwater resources, and only the state has laws dedicated to protecting and maintaining the water rights of all Oklahomans.
We remain committed to mediation as the most desired outcome of the tribal lawsuit against Oklahoma. However, until tribal leaders agree to drop their lawsuit, we will continue to vigorously defend and protect our state’s water, all of its uses, and our citizens’ rights through adjudication, litigation or any other means necessary.
4th Quarter 2011
As we reflect on a landmark year in water planning and prepare for potentially groundbreaking water management legislation in 2012, we need a clear execution strategy to maintain our current momentum and implement initiatives arising from the 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, approved last October. With this in mind, the OCWP’s priority and supporting recommendations include specific implementation plans, where applicable, that not only provide assurances that citizens have access to safe and reliable water supplies in the future, but also should help minimize water rights conflicts and related disagreements over water use and protection.
From a more general perspective, the Foreword of the OCWP Executive Report offers four core factors critical to securing Oklahoma’s water future: infrastructure, data, management, and regional planning.
Related to infrastructure, Oklahoma must provide long-term, affordable financing—beyond what is currently available—to construct and maintain water and sewer systems that furnish safe, clean, and reliable water supplies for its citizens and communities. Failure to act will threaten the state’s future viability and growth, especially in rural areas.
Recognizing that information is the foundation for sound decision-making, the state must not only reestablish its dwindling base of reliable water data but also expand its network of stream gages, monitoring wells, and water quality monitoring sites. Equally critical is the need to upgrade and develop the models and tools necessary to quantify, manage, and allocate surface and groundwater resources with confidence.
While current water management programs have served the state well in developing, utilizing, and protecting water supplies, changing public priorities and additional stress on supplies suggest a more innovative, and in some cases, measured approach in the future. It is clearly time to initiate proactive, systematic, and judicious evaluation of existing water laws and procedures if we hope to maintain the stable and orderly utilization of water so critical to Oklahoma’s economic welfare and quality of life.
Regional planning is the fourth core factor of OCWP strategy and implementation. Most water problems are regional in nature, so it makes sense to solve them based upon local issues and priorities identified by citizens, users, and stakeholders. While statewide water planning has served Oklahoma well and oversight is still required at the state level, the time has come to encourage and formalize regional water planning as the new standard that empowers local citizens, who are more in touch with their unique needs, challenges, and potential solutions.
On our annual Water Day at the State Capitol on February 13, we will formally deliver the long-awaited 2012 OCWP Update to Governor Fallin and the State Legislature. Concerning this monumental achievement, I have tremendous pride and confidence in the path we have chosen to follow, in the impressive work of staff and our many partners, and in the unassailable process and strong science we have utilized to generate the OCWP. While much has been accomplished in the planning phase, we have merely scratched the surface of what must be done to ensure reliable water to meet the myriad needs of all Oklahomans through 2060 and beyond. With the 2012 OCWP Update as our road map, and the persevering spirit of my fellow Oklahomans at the wheel, our future looks bright indeed.
Convened to examine the forthcoming Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP) and make policy decisions regarding the state’s most pressing water issues, the Joint Legislative Water Committee (JLWC) has hosted four meetings to date. The initial meeting on August 17 focused on the most sensible starting point—the evolution and current status of Oklahoma’s surface and groundwater law. The OWRB’s General Counsel, Dean Couch, was joined by tribal water experts, including New Mexico attorney Charles DuMars, to provide the necessary context and a frank assessment of laws governing the use and protection of our water resources.
At their August 31 meeting, JLWC members participated in a day-long discussion of technical studies and findings related to the 2012 Update of the OCWP. OWRB staff outlined the extensive work and results accomplished over five years in assessing current and future water demand and availability for all major use sectors and options to address projected water deficits.
It required two JLWC meetings, held September 21 and October 5, to sufficiently delve into the OCWP’s draft water policy recommendations, with special attention afforded to the eight considered priorities for implementation. OWRB staff joined with me in responding to several insightful questions from the members that demonstrate their sincere commitment to understanding the many water issues facing Oklahoma and strengthening the state’s long-term ability to utilize and protect this precious resource. On that note, I commend Committee members—especially Senator Brian Crain and Representative Phil Richardson, who serve as co chairmen—for their attention to detail and intense desire to learn more about our water resources. And I look forward to working more closely with the members and Legislature as a whole to develop sensible water legislation over the coming years. All JLWC meeting presentations and handouts are available on the OWRB’s OCWP web page.
In the midst of JLWC meetings, and following receipt of more than 400 solicited written comments, at its September meeting the nine-member Water Resources Board listened to about two dozen citizens and representatives of special interest groups who personally addressed the Board concerning the OCWP’s technical work and policy recommendations. In its subsequent discussion, it was clear that the Board took these comments and remarks to heart. This represents the final step in our extensive and unprecedented public input process.
In conclusion, this is a tremendously exciting time as staff puts the finishing touches on the final 2012 OCWP Update, including the Executive Report and 13 Watershed Planning Region reports. This second update of the OCWP is inspired by Oklahoma’s water leaders of the past—W.C. Austin, Red Males, Lloyd Church, Doc Coker, Robert S. Kerr, Francis Borelli, Newt Graham, and many other recognized water pioneers—who left behind an impressive legacy of achievement. Often against great odds, they leveraged key support with fortuitous timing to establish multipurpose projects throughout Oklahoma that today provide millions of citizens with vital water supplies, protection against devastating flood events, and a fertile trading route to ports throughout the world. They were bold, decisive, and steadfast in their convictions. Their courage calls to mind the noted Greek historian Thucydides who stated, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
While no Oklahoman is a stranger to drought and its many devastating impacts, I don’t recall a summer that has been so dry and so hot so soon. Multiple sources report that most of the western half of the state is currently experiencing exceptional or extreme drought – the worst possible categories. Already, our farmers and ranchers have been hit hard, and many cities and towns are initiating water restrictions. The combination of exceedingly hot weather and meager rainfall, coupled with pre-existing high nutrient concentrations in several state lakes, has resulted in the “perfect storm” of conditions leading to toxic algae blooms that pose a substantial public health threat and limit recreational opportunities. Long-range forecasts call for more of the same, so imminent relief is unlikely.
This drought episode demonstrates, yet again, the need for sound, proactive water planning. In fact, this current drought would undoubtedly be much worse if it were not for the OWRB’s loan and grant programs – the direct result of a 1980 Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan recommendation – that have funded billions of dollars in water projects making our systems more resistant to water shortages and better equipped to serve a growing customer base. However, Oklahoma faces a daunting infrastructure need, estimated at $87 billion for drinking water projects alone, over the next 50 years that our current program is ill-equipped to handle. A recommendation to develop a more robust financing program is included in the draft 2012 OCWP Update and is currently under consideration for priority implementation by our nine-member Board. At least six other initiatives, which resulted from participants in the OCWP’s unprecedented public input effort, are also proposed by OWRB staff for elevation to priority status.
Recognizing that sound data is imperative to intelligent water management decisions, a second OCWP draft priority recommendation calls for stable, long-term funding to strengthen state programs to monitor and study our water resources. Enhancing our ability to ascertain, at any given time, the status of Oklahoma’s water quantity and quality will help us implement tools to address and prevent future water problems.
A related draft priority recommendation focuses on more sustainable and realistic permitting of water use. Transitioning from a permitting system based upon average annual water flows to one that incorporates “real world” seasonal variability and availability has substantial merit, as does recognition of the interrelationship of surface and groundwater withdrawals in certain critical areas of the state, such as the Arbuckle- Simpson aquifer region.
In the absence of a valid, accepted formula to calculate nonconsumptive water uses – such as recreational and environmental flows – in OCWP demand forecasts, the OWRB formed a workgroup of experts and stakeholders to study the issue. The Board is considering the workgroup’s suggested process to evaluate the benefits and obstacles to incorporating instream flow considerations into the state’s current water rights administration and planning programs. Tools developed for the OCWP update could be utilized to account for these nonconsumptive uses in appropriate stream systems throughout the state.
Excess and surplus water, probably the most contentious OCWP issue, involves the determination of water available on a basin-specific level for use outside the basin, as well as establishment of protections to ensure that areas of origin are never water deficient. This quantification process, which is required of the OWRB as part of each Water Plan update, has traditionally involved only direct application of 50-year supply and demand information. However, the Board will deliberate incorporation of additional mechanisms that account for instream flow protections, Federal and Tribal reserved water rights, interstate compact requirements, downstream needs, and other factors.
A particularly well-supported recommendation that arose from this OCWP public input process was establishment of regional planning groups to address and implement unique local water management and planning priorities. A specific aspect of this recommendation that will be considered by the Board is the most effective level of authority that could be assigned to these groups. At a minimum, regional planning group representatives could provide extremely useful and well-informed feedback for prioritizing issues and funding decisions in their respective regions.
The final draft priority recommendation under Board consideration is consultation regarding water issues between the State and Oklahoma’s Tribal governments. Public participants and other OCWP partners made it abundantly clear that we need a more formal and deliberate process to finally address our mutual issues and concerns.
I cannot stress enough that our existing body of water law, which has evolved slowly and purposefully since statehood, has served the state very well over the past several decades. Neither Board members nor agency staff advocate any significant changes without considerable forethought to the potential impacts. If it’s not broke, why fix it?
Whatever the Board decides, implementation of important OCWP initiatives will receive a tremendous boost through the newly formed joint legislative water committee. The State Legislature and Governor represent the final vital partners – in addition to Water Board members, agency staff and state citizens – imperative to a successful Water Plan that results in a secure water future for Oklahoma.
The highly anticipated interim draft of the 2012 Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan Update is now available for review on the OWRB’s website. Regional technical reports and other ancillary documents will be finalized over the coming months. I am extremely proud of this initial draft, which assesses our water supplies, offers solutions to anticipated problems, and presents dozens of sensible, well-vetted water policy recommendations. Already, the quality, complexity, and volume of OCWP reports distinguish this plan from any other, and more importantly, it lays a solid foundation for all future Oklahoma water planning endeavors. I believe most Oklahomans will agree that the considerable time and resources expended in development of the 2012 OCWP Update have been well worth it.
Watershed Planning Region Reports will eventually benefit virtually every Oklahoman in establishing reliable and beneficial water supplies. Each report presents fifty-year projections of regional water use as well as options to meet forecasted deficits in supply or related problems. The reports have been carefully designed to allow the water system manager, farmer, irrigator, industrial operator, business owner, and casual citizen to make intelligent and informed decisions concerning water use and sustainability. Particular emphasis has been placed on twelve water supply “hot spots,” areas where future water deficits necessitate early and more aggressive water planning.
Thirteen regional meetings in April and May are allowing water users in every watershed across Oklahoma to learn about their particular usage patterns and what our projections say about the availability of future supplies to sustain and expand local growth. At each location, a separate evening session provides Oklahoma citizens with a unique forum to learn about and comment on dozens of recommended water policy actions developed over the past four years. Those in attendance are encouraged to suggest the most practical methods to accomplish those actions, which will be submitted to the State Legislature and Governor early next year.
While the OCWP presents invaluable information for use in guiding future state water management and policy decisions, its ultimate success will be judged by how well its initiatives are fulfilled. There are countless good ideas sitting on a shelf somewhere that simply lacked a good mechanism for implementation. That’s why we’re giving special consideration to shaping policy recommendations in a manner that provides the best vehicle for their execution, whether through funding, regulatory changes, legislative action, or combinations thereof. On the technical side, we’re developing planning guidance to assist water providers in applying water supply and demand information to their particular systems. The plan also includes a highly configurable computer-based analysis tool, called Oklahoma H2O, which allows a water system or another user to test various scenarios of water use according to select needs and sources of supply. A separate hydrologic model can be used to perform or update sophisticated evaluations of yield, which is a critical aspect of reservoir and water supply management.
This is truly a momentous year for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, its Board members and staff, not to mention all of our OCWP partners. I encourage all Oklahomans to join us by reviewing the Water Plan, getting more informed, attending a Water Plan meeting near you, calling your legislator to voice your opinion about water issues of particular importance to you, and, in general, playing an active role in our state’s bright water future.
As the Water Resources Board contemplates news of an anticipated budget cut of ten percent or more, as well as continued talk of agency consolidation, we naturally reflect upon the efficiency and utility of our programs and expenditures.
An extremely diverse agency, especially for its moderate size, the OWRB is charged by the Legislature with considerable responsibilities. Through our water rights program, staff administer almost 13,000 permits making possible the fair and orderly use of more than 6 million acre-feet of stream and groundwater each year. Among many associated tasks, we help water users mitigate the devastating impacts associated with our state’s frequent drought episodes, address frequent conflicts between diverse user groups and among individuals, and ensure compliance with federal compacts apportioning water between Oklahoma and our neighboring states.
We seek to avoid potential loss of life and property as staff ensure the integrity of some 4,500 dams across the state and guide land use in concert with floodplain requirements. To protect public health and optimize recreational opportunities, the OWRB monitors the quality of water in more than 600 streams and lakes, and we work with other agencies and communities to prevent and remediate pollution problems when they occur.
The OWRB’s five loan and grant programs have generated more than $2.4 billion and leveraged many billions more in the construction of water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Many of the communities and rural water districts receiving these funds would otherwise be forced into the private market to obtain financing at much higher rates or would not qualify at all. Our technical experts study Oklahoma’s surface and groundwaters to determine amounts of water available for use. Their findings, backed by critically important data, provide information essential to sustainably manage water usage both for this generation and for those that follow.
All of this work is accomplished through a dedicated group of professionals, including engineers, geologists, environmental specialists, attorneys, financial analysts, accountants, and information technology experts. They are uniquely qualified, many possessing advanced degrees. They are well-trained and experienced, yet always working to improve their skills and knowledge.
The current update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan has provided a unique opportunity to discuss the state’s water management programs with hundreds of Oklahomans. The message received is clear. Citizens want more, not less, protection for the state’s water resources, including funding for critically important infrastructure, research and planning. Sound planning and management of our water resources requires accurate data of both the quantity and quality of our water, thus reinforcing the need for critical efforts such as stream gaging and water quality monitoring. As stress on supplies escalates and managing our water becomes more complex, funding such essential programs that enable us to find reasonable solutions becomes increasingly important.
This is a daunting challenge, especially in light of several consecutive years of OWRB budget reductions. Though difficult to balance increasing demands from the public with declining revenue, we continually strive to streamline our programs and accomplish our statutory mandates more efficiently. The OWRB is focused on improving the quality of life for all Oklahomans, which we understand means providing the highest level of public service at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.
In closing, I want to welcome Gary Sherrer back to service as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Environment, a position in which he served admirably during the Keating Administration. It has been my honor to serve in that role since 2008, yet I am excited now to devote all of my attention to the dedicated OWRB staff and Board members as we passionately serve Oklahoma’s citizens by developing, managing and protecting our most valuable natural resource – water.
Even before it was officially launched late in 2006, the OWRB committed to facilitating an open and, above all, inclusive Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP) process—one that is above reproach. It is my opinion that we have been extremely successful in that mission. This will become quite evident when the Plan is submitted to the State Legislature and Governor in early 2012, and as policies and projects resulting from the plan are implemented in the following years.
This OCWP is truly by the people and for the people. Through development of a close working relationship with more than 300 citizen participants, who have graciously volunteered both their time and unique perspectives on Oklahoma’s future water issues, we have established trust and fostered a beneficial spirit of cooperation.
To ensure a fair and nonpartisan OCWP, the OWRB empowered the Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute (OWRRI), an independent organization with unique policy development expertise, to develop and execute the OCWP’s public participation process. Every individual who has been directly involved in this singular opportunity to contribute to Oklahoma’s water future was chosen and vetted by the OWRRI and approved by the OCWP Planning Advisory Board, a separate body consisting of select OWRB members and cabinet officials. No person willing to volunteer significant time to the effort was excluded.
To date, the OWRRI has hosted 86 local, regional, and statewide water planning meetings and engaged thousands of Oklahomans in the public input process. Participants have invested almost 30,000 hours collectively. Discussion has been heated at times, which not only exemplifies the passion that Oklahomans have about their water resources, but also verifies to us that they are engaged in our process. On the technical side, ten separate workgroups, including about 100 experts, have provided invaluable input into technical methodologies and decisions.
Providing an additional opportunity for independent vetting of draft water policy recommendations, the Water Town Hall, hosted by The Oklahoma Academy, was successfully completed last May. During the spring of 2011, the OWRRI will host thirteen additional regional public meetings to obtain feedback on draft water policy recommendations, all of which will receive final consideration by the nine-member Water Board late in 2011 prior to formal submittal to the Legislature and Governor in early 2012.
Implementable policy must be backed by broad public support, and that is what we seek through this unprecedented level of openness, collaboration, and public involvement in development of water policy for Oklahoma’s next century. Arbitrary decisions concerning the management and protection of Oklahoma’s water resources are destined to fail. The OCWP is not the OWRB’s plan, it belongs to all Oklahomans. Just as we all share in the bounty of our plentiful water supplies, we all share the blame if we neglect our water resources or fail to plan for future water problems.
On a related note, the OWRB’s management team convened our annual strategic planning retreat at Lake Arcadia near Edmond last month. It was my first such experience with that group, and I enjoyed participating in a very productive and quite lively discussion concerning the future direction of the agency in serving the water-related needs of Oklahoma citizens.
A major outcome was our new, refashioned OWRB Mission Statement, which I think captures well the agency’s renewed objective for FY-2012 and beyond: To enhance the quality of life for Oklahomans by managing, protecting and improving the state’s water resources to ensure clean, safe, and reliable water supplies, a strong economy, and a healthy environment.
At the Board’s June meeting, we welcomed Marilyn Feaver, of Chickasha, as the latest member of the OWRB. Marilyn brings with her a varied background mostly involving economic development in rural Oklahoma, which she will draw from as she makes some undoubtedly tough water decisions over the next seven years. Jack Keeley will be missed as a very active and valued member of the Board.
Board members were faced with a very difficult decision at our special meeting on June 11. The Board voted 5-2 in favor of an agreement to transfer Sardis Lake water storage to the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust, which is seeking to secure a long-term water supply for central Oklahoma in order to meet projected shortages by 2030. Though controversial, the agreement not only resolves the state’s long-standing obligation concerning construction of the lake but also preserves a significant amount of lake storage for present and future needs in the region.
Duane Smith, who has been on assignment with the Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan, also announced his retirement in June. Duane’s accomplishments are almost too numerous to mention, but most in the Oklahoma water community are well aware of the significant impact he has made on our state’s water management and planning programs. On behalf of the Board and agency staff, I wish Duane the best of luck as he progresses on to other endeavors.
The State Legislature adjourned on May 28. The OWRB received a 7.5 percent cut in appropriations, as expected. Fortunately, our appropriation included funds to cover some of our ongoing litigation expenses. We’ll continue to streamline services to accommodate the reduction in expenditures.
With legislators consumed by budget issues, there was little formal water legislation considered, and nothing of note was passed, including the water center and pit water regulation bills.
Probably the most consequential result of this year’s session for the OWRB was ratification of all rulemaking, including several new fees, which should provide much-needed revenue to support critical water use permitting activities and hydrologic studies. Agency consolidation was proposed by the Legislature late in the session and failed to gain the necessary momentum for passage.
The special Water Town Hall, hosted by the Oklahoma Academy, was both extremely productive and enlightening for all involved, including myself. I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a diverse, informed, and engaged group of individuals gathered together in one place to discuss water issues. The result was an impressive product containing the opinions of about 172 people fashioned over three days of meetings. Now we are tasked with integrating the Academy’s final report, including recommendations, into the considerable input and technical information compiled over the past three years (and counting) of OCWP public input sessions and technical studies. The resulting, unprecedented comprehensive plan will chart a new and well- vetted course for Oklahoma’s water future.
As most Oklahomans in the water business know by now, Duane Smith has taken a temporary leave of absence from the OWRB to assist the U.S. military in establishing much-needed water supply and related infrastructure for the citizens of Afghanistan. Without question, Duane’s exemplary leadership as the agency’s director, as well as his persistence in promoting and implementing Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan initiatives, will be missed while he’s away.
In Duane’s absence, I can assure you that very little will change during my assignment as the OWRB’s Interim Executive Director. In fact, I view this opportunity to manage the OWRB’s day-to-day surface and groundwater management activities as simply an expansion of my Secretary of Environment duties. Some may recall that I began my professional career working as a summer temporary employee for the OWRB, transitioning later to environmental scientist in the agency’s Water Quality Division where I sampled streams and lakes all across Oklahoma. To say this transition will be seamless is an understatement, as I have always shared many of the priorities of OWRB board and staff in establishing more robust, comprehensive water planning, monitoring, and protection.
Oklahoma’s legislative session is now in full swing. While there are a few water measures under consideration, most major policy matters seem resigned to await finalization of the Water Plan process. However, one recent legislative initiative of particular importance to the OWRB involves our recent rulemaking to implement a new groundwater rights administration fee mirroring the agency’s long-standing fee required of stream water rights holders. The fee would help offset the rising costs of conducting groundwater studies to accurately establish each landowner’s fair share of groundwater, streamlining and automating record-keeping and reporting requirements, ensuring water use compliance through field inspections, and other activities that generally protect and strengthen the water rights of Oklahomans, including private property owners. Regardless of our success this year in putting this new fee structure in place, pursuing additional funding to manage and protect Oklahoma’s invaluable water resources will remain an agency priority.
The OWRB, Water Resources Research Institute, Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, and our many Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan partners are busy preparing for our special Water Town Hall on May 23-26. Both professionally and personally as a citizen of this great state, I am an unabashed supporter of the Water Plan, particularly its unprecedented public input process designed to establish an inclusive and progressive water policy framework for Oklahoma’s water future.
The Governor, Legislature, and Oklahoma citizens have exhibited a tremendous amount of faith in the OWRB’s water planning and management ability, which is predicated on our past successes. This is a challenging responsibility that I welcome and embrace in leading this agency to continued excellence, and thus providing the taxpaying citizens of Oklahoma with the high quality service they deserve.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be a member of Oklahoma’s water community, whether you’re in government, academia, or the private sector. This was certainly reflected at the Governor’s Water Conference, which celebrated its 30th year in November. In particular, the past three Conferences have provided an opportunity for citizens and decision makers alike to learn about, discuss, and influence the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan update process. What we learn from these vital annual meetings, along with valuable public and technical input, provides us with the information we need to adjust our planning goals in accordance with the state’s long-term social, economic, and environmental interests.
At this year’s Conference, we learned from keynote speaker Robert Glennon, a renowned water author and attorney, that the challenging water issues facing Oklahoma are not so very different than those dealt with in other states. But while in Oklahoma we continually strive to manage our water resources in a more responsible manner, our general appreciation of water often seems to exceed that elsewhere in the U.S., even in more arid regions of our country.
The OWRB’s vital federal partners at the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation spoke about the fruitful relationship between state and federal governments that has not only clarified, but unified, mutual water development initiatives. Our close cooperation with these and other federal and state agencies is imperative as we address emerging water issues related to our aging infrastructure, energy, the environment, biodiversity, and climate change.
Also at the Conference, three of our supporters in the State Legislature - Sen. Glenn Coffee, Rep. Dale DeWitt, and Sen. Susan Paddack - demonstrated their commitment to sensible water planning. Sen. Paddack went so far as to demand a collective oath from the 500 people in attendance to be advocates for water and to wholeheartedly support the Water Plan process. Without these and other leaders who know first-hand the importance of water, Oklahoma’s water future would be very cloudy, to say the least.
From CDM, our primary engineering firm and technical partner in the Water Plan update, conferees heard an overview of cutting-edge planning tools developed specifically for the OCWP. The water supply/demand gap tool, reservoir yield model, and climate demand model provide us with powerful and flexible technology as we investigate seemingly countless water supply and management scenarios. We also heard the latest on the Arbuckle-Simpson study--highlighted by four years of ground-breaking work by the most authoritative minds in the water field. From the U.S. Geological Survey, we learned about yet another multi-year investigation that seeks to address water quantity and quality concerns related to sudden heavy usage of central Oklahoma’s Garber-Wellington aquifer. Experts from the Climatological Survey talked about how temperature and precipitation directly impact water resource management, especially considering climate change assumptions. In addition to a current Water Plan-funded study on evapotranspiration, the Survey is working to downscale global climate change models for use in Oklahoma. Expertise and data provided by CDM, the USGS, OCS, and our other cooperators will provide much-needed confidence to the OWRB, legislature, and others as we make vital decisions about the future use of both our surface and groundwaters.
The Water Resources Research Institute, which directs the policy development and public participation phase of the Water Plan process, summarized draft water resource management. Representatives of the Oklahoma Academy of State Goals described the upcoming Town Hall, scheduled May 23-26, which will be used to obtain consensus on the many proposed water policy initiatives formally recommended in the final Water Plan document. Transparency and broad citizen involvement are vital to public acceptance of the OCWP.
Over the next two years, we will complete the Water Plan and develop implementation strategies. I encourage all Oklahomans to join us next fall at the 2010 Governor’s Water Conference and again in 2011 as we formally set in motion a renewed and optimistic water future for Oklahoma.
It was encouraging to see more than 400 interested citizens turn out for a public meeting on the Arbuckle-Simpson Hydrology Study, which was held August 18 at the Pontotoc Technology Center in Ada. The informal meeting provided an opportunity for state and federal water experts to present study results and educate Oklahomans on hydrological and permitting concepts. It also served as a vital forum through which the OWRB could obtain input on management strategies that will guide future use of the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer while protecting the integrity of springs and streams that provide numerous economic, recreational, and environmental benefits to the area.
OWRB and U.S. Geological Survey staff presented detailed information on the aquifer’s hydrogeology, including its unique and variable recharge and storage characteristics. The audience learned how varying flows impact the health of aquatic organisms. Related to this discussion, the Surface Water Technical Advisory Group findings were presented, including the recommendation that future groundwater management strategies should target a 10 to 25 percent maximum reduction in base streamflow.
A considerable amount of time was spent explaining the USGS’s groundwater flow model, which simulates underground flow and discharge and allows researchers to estimate how large-scale groundwater withdrawals could affect streamflow. Utilizing this flexible and informative tool, we can run countless scenarios with an unprecedented degree of confidence, assuming various flows, water use regimes, and related criteria, and then view results of hypothetical water management schemes.
A lengthy session followed where local citizens and others in attendance had a chance to contribute their personal viewpoints and opinions on possible water management and protection plans. It was pleasing to see sensible and positive input, especially considering the controversy surrounding the aquifer and the size of the crowd. Everyone appeared to have left the meeting room believing they received a fair opportunity to speak out.
Never before has the state dedicated such resources to the study of one specific water resource. Through staunch support from our Congressional delegation and state legislative leaders, Oklahoma secured millions in federal Bureau of Reclamation funds, along with matching money, to conduct this detailed, multi-year study and complete it on time and in budget. On the technical side, the Chickasaw Nation funded stream gages in the aquifer region, and the USGS, state universities, and others lent us their expert staff to help collect and analyze mountains of data on the Arbuckle-Simpson and its complex hydrogeology.
But despite all the efforts of so many to fund and conduct this impressive work, this study is not about dollars, statistics, models, or numbers. It’s about grassroots water management and people coming together to voice their collective concerns over use of a treasured resource they utilize every day of their lives.
However, this level of concern is not unique to the Arbuckle-Simpson area. The State Legislature continues to provide a great deal of attention to water resource issues, as evidenced by September’s Water Needs in Southwestern Oklahoma interim study, co-hosted by the OWRB and House of Representatives. Dozens of state and federal officials accompanied our state leaders on an informative tour of Lake Waurika, Cache Creek, Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, Lugert-Altus Irrigation District, Elm Fork of the Red River, and other water-related sites of interest in the southwest region of our state.
Clearly, we’re seeing a distinct shift in attitudes about water’s importance. People are taking more responsibility for their surface and groundwaters and they are more knowledgeable than ever, which not only makes our jobs as water managers easier, but also much more rewarding.
As OWRB staff work with our numerous partners in updating the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP), it has been particularly interesting and refreshing to witness the gradual disintegration of organizational barriers that have traditionally been detrimental to effective water resource management in Oklahoma. The OCWP process has not only strengthened relationships between citizens and participating federal, state, and local organizations, each bringing unique and integral experience and resources to the table, but it also has fostered entirely new and invaluable partnerships that will help bridge the gap between just talking about progress and actually getting things done.
Once the Water Plan moves to full implementation, following its submittal to the State Legislature and Governor early in 2012, it would be a mistake to lose this momentum. To effectuate true change and maximize efficiency, Oklahoma requires a permanent organization to coordinate academic, governmental, and private collaboration in water research and management. Those familiar with the National Weather Center, in Norman, know what such an alliance can accomplish.
Oklahoma faces enormous water management challenges that will require innovative water policy solutions. But first, we must radically improve our understanding of the state’s water resources. “Growing” our water knowledge base will require new and expanded levels of collaboration between academic, governmental, and private resources. Through an established center for water research and policy development, Oklahoma would have a focal point for accomplishing initiatives set through the Water Plan and state and federal legislation. This unified approach would put Oklahoma in a stronger position to acquire federal funds for research and implementation.
This proposition was also a topic of discussion at the agency’s annual management retreat in early June. As usual, staff reviewed agency successes over the past fiscal year, such as maintaining our loan program’s AAA rating, and of course, significant progress made in updating the OCWP. We outlined new priorities and we challenged ourselves to take a stronger lead in bringing Oklahomans together to solve important water issues.
We were also honored to have Rep. Colby Schwartz address the OWRB’s leadership team. It was invaluable to hear directly from a legislative member in a relatively informal session about his particular water concerns--the issues that are important to him and his constituents. As we’ve seen through the Water Plan’s public input process, this type of insight is incredibly beneficial as we attempt to answer the public’s need for long-term supplies of quality water.
House Resolution 1105, otherwise known as the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, has been passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. Not to be confused with federal stimulus funding, this spending bill establishes the budgets of many federal agencies through September, the end of the federal fiscal year. Agency operations and projects were previously being funded through continuing resolutions, or temporary spending measures.
What is of particular importance to the OWRB and State of Oklahoma is this measure earmarks almost $3 million for the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, Red River chloride control project, and associated water studies. Increasingly, the Administration and Congress are placing water at the forefront of the national agenda as citizens come to terms with increasing demands for finite water supplies, aging infrastructure, water quality threats, and the desire for enhanced protection for ecosystems and recreational interests.
We are particularly grateful to Senator Jim Inhofe and Representatives Tom Cole, Mary Fallin, and Frank Lucas who helped shepherd the state’s omnibus water projects through many Congressional hurdles. Oklahoma is well- positioned as Rep. Fallin sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee while Sen. Inhofe is the Ranking Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The OWRB’s strong relationship with our Congressional delegation has been extremely beneficial as we seek out initiatives to implement meaningful water projects in Oklahoma and strengthen the state’s ability to repel future water problems. In late February I traveled to Washington D.C. to visit with our delegation and their staff about water-related state priorities in FY-2010 Federal appropriations, including drafting of a new Water Resources Development Act. Such communication provides an effective way to keep our Congressional leaders abreast of the water situation in their home state as they are compelled to divide their attention between countless national concerns and our own State interests.
Of course, we are also very excited about passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also referred to as the federal stimulus package, which includes $62 million for Oklahoma water and wastewater projects through the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF Programs as well as $70 million in USDA Rural Development funds for similar projects in rural areas. Through these authorities, both loans and grants will be awarded for shovel-ready projects to stimulate the nation’s economy as well as provide enhanced water and sewer service, safe drinking water, and improved water quality to Oklahomans.
In conjunction with conventional funding through the OWRB’s Financial Assistance Program, stimulus dollars will help us provide the infrastructure required to deliver reliable water supply to Oklahomans. In turn, ongoing activities and initiatives related to the Water Plan update will assist in obtaining vital information to better understand Oklahoma’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs. Furthermore, the OCWP will help planners and financiers prioritize critical need areas where inadequate treatment and/or delivery create a barrier between water and its users and limit local economic development. From this viewpoint, the FAP and OCWP are collectively providing economic stimulus to Oklahoma.
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Page last updated: October 14, 2015