3rd Quarter 2014
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.
2nd Quarter 2014
J. D. Strong
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.
1st Quarter 2014
J. D. Strong
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.
4th Quarter 2013
J. D. Strong
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.
3rd Quarter 2013
J. D. Strong
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.
2nd Quarter 2013
J. D. Strong
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.
1st Quarter 2013
J. D. Strong
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.
4th Quarter 2012
J. D. Strong
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.
3rd Quarter 2012
J. D. Strong
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!
2nd Quarter 2012
J. D. Strong
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.
1st Quarter 2012
J. D. Strong
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.