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Press Releases

November 13, 2008

Funding Announced for Water Plan Climate Study

OKLAHOMA CITY—The Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that it has secured funding to conduct a study that will determine the potential impacts of local climate change on Oklahoma water supplies. Results from the $100,000 investigation, cost-shared between the Bureau and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), will be incorporated into the technical analysis component of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan update, due for completion in 2011.

The study, entitled Methodology to Evaluate the Influence of Joint Changes in Climate and Land Cover on Water Availability, is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2010. Specifically, researchers will attempt to characterize land cover and ecosystem changes over time in two stream systems, then employ hydrologic models to determine how those changes may have been influenced by climate change and variability. Those results will be used to calibrate the model so that it can be used to project future climate and land use changes and likely impacts on downstream water supplies.

“Many factors in the watershed influence water supply and its availability at any given time, such as precipitation and runoff, evapotranspiration, land cover and vegetation, and soil type,” according to Kyle Arthur, OWRB Director of Planning. “If we can determine how climate has influenced these factors in the past, then we can certainly develop tools to project those impacts into the future. And that could have an enormous impact on how we plan for and manage local water supplies, not to mention improving efficiencies and maximizing infrastructure costs.”

The investigation will focus on two case study watersheds located above Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs in the southern Great Plains region: the Canadian River above Lake Meredith (near Lubbock, Texas) and the North Fork of the Red River above Lake Lugert-Altus Reservoir (near Altus, Oklahoma). The Lake Meredith watershed offers a particularly relevant case study because the reservoir’s yield has fallen short of pre-construction estimates, presumably due to climate change (increased temperatures and associated evapotranspiration) and land cover change (brush proliferation and construction of private impoundments).

Lugert-Altus Reservoir is the primary source of irrigation for more than one-half of the state’s cotton crop produced over 45,000 acres of land in southwest Oklahoma. In a typical year, more than 100,000 bales of cotton worth $35 million dollars are produced, generating a total estimated economic impact of $220 million to Jackson County alone. The lake also provides important recreational and related benefits and is home to a popular state resort and park at scenic Quartz Mountain.

“We are extremely excited about this study in that the results should strengthen our ability to withstand the potential impacts of climate change and improve how we store and deliver water to Oklahoma communities, industries, agricultural operations, and other users,” says Duane Smith, OWRB Executive Director. “This is a great example of how, through the Water Plan, we are leveraging vital partnerships with our other sister federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation, to widen our field of knowledge in the water science arena.”

For information about the study or the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, contact Kyle Arthur at 405-530-8800 or visit www.owrb.ok.gov.

October 29, 2008

Water Board Announces Water Project Funding for Oklahoma Communities

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) and Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) announced Wednesday that it will make approximately $2.5 million in funding available to leverage construction of water projects throughout Oklahoma. The announcement was made during the luncheon program at the Annual Governor’s Water Conference and Water Research Symposium in Midwest City, Oklahoma.

The OWRB funds have accrued for the past two years from state Gross Production Tax revenues earmarked equally for both the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan and OWRB State Financial Assistance Program (FAP). The released money will be used to match an Environmental Protection Agency Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program capitalization grant of more than $13 million. In turn, the combined funds will allow the OWRB to leverage some $36 million in loans for water treatment and distribution projects. The OWRB administers the DWSRF program in conjunction with the ODEQ.

According to OWRB Executive Director Duane Smith, “Our hope is this move will mitigate somewhat the potential impact of the nation’s current financial crisis on the substantial infrastructure financing requirements of Oklahoma’s cities, towns, and rural water systems. While nobody envisioned this crisis, the Water Board’s unique financing program was designed with the appropriate foresight that should allow many Oklahoma communities to weather this storm.”

The OWRB’s FAP, which was created in 1979, includes three loan and two grant programs that fund both water and wastewater projects in Oklahoma. To date, the Board has approved more than $1.8 billion in FAP loans and grants.

September 26, 2008

GRDA and OWRB Strike Unique Bond Deal

In the face of a crumbling financial market, the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) stepped in Thursday to purchase $33 million in Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) bonds, thus saving dozens of cities and towns in Oklahoma from assuming high interest rates on their water and sewer projects.

The OWRB was marketing its bonds to finance water and wastewater construction loans through its Financial Assistance Program, but the agency’s costs to issue the bonds were simply too high due to the unsettled market and high interest rates. Then, on Wednesday, the GRDA completed a $575 million revenue bond issue for the purpose of expanding its electric generation assets. With revenue to invest but faced with relatively low yields generated by money market funds, the traditional buyers of variable rate bonds, GRDA opted to purchase the OWRB’s bonds.

According to Chris Cochran, Executive Vice President and Director of Public Finance for Capital West Securities, Inc. the firm that underwrote the deal, the timing was perfect for both the GRDA and OWRB.

“After contacting numerous money market funds, many of whom have traditionally purchased OWRB Bonds, we discovered that they were either unwilling to invest or their interest rates would be at much inflated levels. Realizing that we were looking at the possibility of a failed remarketing or interest rates in the 8-10 percent range, and knowing that GRDA had a large sum of money that needed to be invested with few safe and financially productive options, we ultimately contacted GRDA officials. The Authority immediately realized that the OWRB bonds were a good investment under current market conditions and, at the same time, they were in a unique position to help Oklahoma cities and towns,” Cochran says.

“This was a great opportunity for GRDA to assist Oklahoma communities, not just in our service area but across the entire state. It’s just Oklahomans helping Oklahomans,” adds Kevin Easley, GRDA’s Chief Executive Officer.

"It’s been a whirlwind few weeks with the economic crisis befalling the market right as we were attempting to find investors for our bonds. Credit evaporated almost overnight and the OWRB’s bonds were caught in the middle," according to Duane Smith, OWRB Executive Director. “We were so fortunate that GRDA and Kevin Easley agreed to come to our aid and make this a win-win situation for Oklahoma.” He also points out that he’s grateful to State Treasurer Scott Meacham, whose office offered on Wednesday a contingency proposal to purchase the OWRB's bonds for the state's investment portfolio. The GRDA purchase proved to be a more advantageous deal for the OWRB’s borrowers.

“The bottom line is that the OWRB’s customers can now make reasonable payments for their water and sewer system projects while GRDA can utilize proceeds from the bond sale to finance improvements for its customers in northeast Oklahoma,” Smith adds.

“Not only does GRDA benefit from considerably higher yields, but the OWRB’s bonds are a very safe investment in a quite volatile market,” says Joe Freeman, chief of the OWRB’s Financial Assistance Division. “The OWRB can offer a lower interest rate, which saves our borrowers—32 Oklahoma cities, towns and rural water districts—a collective $1.4 million just over the next six months.”

The loans will incur a 4.3 percent interest rate for the next six-month period, higher than the OWRB’s desired rate but approximately equal to the average variable rate since 1986. Cochran points out that although the marketplace remains fraught with substantial uncertainty, he remains hopeful that money will soon flow back to money market funds and the OWRB will be able to continue marketing to that market segment in the near future.

July 3, 2008

OWRB Director Appointed to National Drinking Water Advisory Council

Duane Smith, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), has been named as the state water management representative to the National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC). Smith was officially sworn in at the Council’s annual meeting last month in Tucson, Arizona.

The Council consults with and advises U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and Benjamin Grumbles, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, on policy issues related to administration of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The Council also provides an avenue through which EPA establishes vital stakeholder input on drinking water issues from the general public, state and local agencies, and private groups, all of whom are represented on the Council.

Various NDWAC working groups, each consisting of about 20 members who hold regular meetings, make recommendations to the full Council, which in turn advises EPA on individual regulations, guidances, and policy.

“I am truly honored to serve on this important national organization, which demonstrates EPA’s commitment to formally work with its stakeholders. I look forward to promoting state perspectives, including that of Oklahoma, on drinking water regulations, monitoring, infrastructure needs, and emerging issues, such as the impacts of climate change on the nation's water supplies and underground disposal of carbon waste products,” Smith says. His appointment expires in April 2011. Smith is also completing a two-year term as Chairman of the Western States Water Council.

May 8, 2008

Bill Seeks Technology to Augment State Groundwater Supplies

OKLAHOMA CITY—A bill passed by the State Legislature last month aims to replenish selected underground water supplies throughout Oklahoma.

SB 1410, which received unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, authorizes the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to oversee aquifer recharge pilot projects that will channel surface runoff into subsurface cavities and pores for storage and later use. The OWRB will collect and analyze data from the projects and submit the findings to the Legislature, other governmental entities and the public. The agency is also directed to form a technical workgroup to review findings of the pilot projects as well as assist in selecting potential aquifers and locations for the most feasible recharge demonstration projects.

According to Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, who authored the bill with Rep. Wes Hilliard, D-Sulphur, SB 1410 addresses just one of many future water supply challenges facing Oklahoma. “It’s imperative that we aggressively pursue all measures to grow Oklahoma’s water supply. In light of population growth, we must maximize our ability to provide water to our citizens as well as increase our resistance to future drought episodes.” The bill was signed by Gov. Henry on April 21 and went into effect immediately.

“Both the spirit of the legislation and the implementation of this technology are entirely consistent with the current update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, which seeks to establish safe and reliable water supplies for the future of the state and its citizens,” says Duane Smith, Executive Director of the OWRB.

“While we strongly advocate additional studies of our aquifers and groundwater basins, especially concerning determinations of their reliability in providing water supply to Oklahomans, we must also investigate technologies, such as artificial recharge, that show promise in augmenting this supply,” he points out.

Smith adds that the projects will seek to increase aquifer yields for both public water supply and agricultural use. Work should begin soon, he says.

May 5, 2008

Third Water Appreciation Day Set for May 14

The third annual Capitol Water Appreciation Day will be held May 14, 2008, at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) will host the event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Capitol’s 4th floor rotunda. Water Appreciation Day will present a unique opportunity for groups to demonstrate the importance of Oklahoma’s water resources and provide information on their water management, conservation, and educational programs for state legislators and other government officials.

“It’s important and fitting that Oklahoma has at least one day each year devoted solely to recognition of our water resources,” says Duane Smith, OWRB Executive Director. “This unique celebration of Oklahoma’s diverse water resources will not only help focus the attention of our Governor and Legislative leadership on water issues facing the state, but will also serve to recognize those who strive to protect Oklahoma's most precious natural resource.”

Water Appreciation Day will feature numerous agencies and organizations with water interests—including public water supply, agriculture, tourism and recreation, environmental protection, wildlife conservation, soil conservation, energy, and industry, as well as occupations such as well drillers, floodplain managers, environmental engineers, and others—who will showcase how they individually and collectively protect the state’s surface and groundwaters.

In addition to activities in the Capitol rotunda, the Water Board has also scheduled a press conference at 1:00 p.m. in the Governor’s Large Conference Room to focus attention on pertinent water issues facing the state, including the ongoing update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP). OWRB Chairman Mark Nichols, Executive Director Duane Smith, Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment Miles Tolbert, and members of the Oklahoma State Legislature will provide remarks.

The OWRB, Oklahoma’s water agency, was created in 1957 with the original charge of identifying water problems and proposing policies for fair and equitable water laws. The Board now directs staff in many areas, including the administration of permits for the beneficial use of stream and groundwater, studies of the quality and quantity of surface and groundwaters, oversight of nonfederal dam safety, encouragement of responsible floodplain management, coordination of activities of four interstate stream compacts, monitoring of streamflows and groundwater levels, administration of loans and grants to communities to assist in the construction of water and wastewater facilities, development of Oklahoma Water Quality Standards to curb water pollution, identification of pollution sources, and restoration of water quality. Late last year, the OWRB also initiated the OCWP update, which will be completed in 2011 and presented to the Legislature in 2012.

For more information on Water Appreciation Day, call Mike Melton at 405-530-8800.

May 1, 2008

Oklahoma Water Resources Board to Hold Public Meeting on Clean Water State Revolving Fund FY 2009 Intended Use Plan

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board will hold a public meeting to receive comments on the draft FY 2009 Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) Priority Project List and Intended Use Plan on Thursday, June 5, 2008, at 10:30a.m. at 3800 North Classen Blvd, Oklahoma City. Eligible public systems may receive below market interest rate financing for construction and improvement of collection and treatment works, stormwater, abandoned site remediation, and nonpoint source pollution control activities which maintain Oklahoma’s surface and groundwater resources.

A copy of the draft plan is available at the above address. To submit a project to be considered for funding or for further information contact: Julie Cunningham, Financial Assistance Division, (405)530-8800

April 28, 2008

Governor Proclaims May Flood Awareness Month

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Because spring marks the unofficial beginning of the state's flood season and to make citizens aware of flooding problems and solutions, Governor Brad Henry has designated May as "Flood Awareness Month" in Oklahoma.

“We remind citizens that heavy rains and severe storms typically occur in the early spring months, making this one of the most dangerous times of the year," says Duane Smith, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB).

“This proclamation will be of tremendous help to the Water Board in educating the public on flood safety procedures and floodplain management techniques,” Smith adds. Earlier, Governor Henry proclaimed March as “Flood Insurance Month,” part of a state campaign to spread the word about the availability of affordable flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Oklahoma currently boasts 380 NFIP member communities, which consist of municipalities, counties, and tribes.

“Severe flooding episodes occur in Oklahoma virtually every year, most frequently in the spring and fall,” says Gavin Brady, State Floodplain Manager. “Implementation of sound floodplain management and building strategies, particularly through the NFIP, is the most effective way for communities to avert potential flood damages.” However, he encourages communities to go “above and beyond” minimum NFIP standards, consistent with the national Association of State Floodplain Manager’s ongoing ‘No Adverse Impact’ initiative. Brady points out that 89% of homes in Oklahoma’s designated floodplains have no flood insurance.

On an individual basis, Brady reminds Oklahomans of the dangers of driving into floodwaters. “Almost one-half of all flood-related fatalities occur in vehicles, primarily when people drive into flooded highway dips or low drainage areas at night. As little as six inches of water can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles. Two feet of water will sweep most cars off the road,” he says.

Also, OWRB partners with the Oklahoma Insurance Department in providing workshops for insurance agents and insurance adjustors. A listing of workshop dates and locations can be found at www.owrb.state.ok.us. Agents and adjusters can earn six Continuing Education Credits by attending one of these workshops. “Oklahoma consumers need to be aware that their basic homeowner’s insurance policy does not provide coverage to protect against damages created by flooding,” said Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland. “I encourage everyone to consult the latest floodplain maps or visit with their local insurance agent to assess their need for flood insurance.”

For more information on Flood Awareness Month and the National Flood Insurance Program, call Gavin Brady at 918/581-2924.

March 4, 2008

OWRB to Review Statewide Stream Water Rights and Use

OKLAHOMA CITY—To comply with and enforce provisions of Oklahoma’s water law, as well as enhance the understanding of available water resources in the state, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) is conducting a comprehensive review of stream water permits and individual water usage.

According to Brian Vance, OWRB Information Services Director, this particular review addresses only stream water because it is considered a public resource while groundwater belongs to the overlying private property owner. “This unique difference makes groundwater permit holders subject to a separate set of rules, although both surface and groundwater users are required to submit annual reports disclosing the amount of water used each year,” he says.

Oklahoma law requires the OWRB to review stream water rights for nonuse and cancel a water right if the water is not actually placed to beneficial use. This frees up water for use by others. Title 82 of Oklahoma Statutes specifically provides that when a stream water right holder "commences using water but thereafter fails to beneficially use all or any part of the water... for a period of seven continuous years, the right of use of the unused amount of water... shall be lost and such unused water shall revert to the public…”

“In essence, this ‘use or lose’ statute insures that the maximum amount of surface water remains available to prospective water users,” Vance points out. “Also, as we update the state’s water plan, it is imperative that water is not only used in a responsible manner, but that we have an accurate accounting of its use—a precise water budget for Oklahoma.” Vance adds that a vital aspect of the ongoing Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan update is a statewide inventory of existing water supply that will allow planners to project future needs. The OWRB is also working to modernize its vast water management database, including more than 2,700 active stream water permits allocating the use of more than 9 trillion gallons of water.

To effectively address the large number of stream water permits, the agency has established a systematic review procedure beginning in the Red River stream system and its sub-basins then extending later to permits in the Arkansas River basin, Vance says. “In the coming weeks, we will begin sending letters to stream water right holders who have used less than the amounts authorized by their water rights. They will be notified that their right is subject to reduction or cancellation,” he explains. Each user will be provided with an opportunity to correct water use reports or explain why the water has not been used beneficially. If the agency receives no response, a “show cause” hearing will be scheduled.

“At the hearing, the water right holder will be given an opportunity to show that failure to use the water was beyond his or her control,” he points out. Regardless, if a water right is reduced or forfeited, Vance emphasizes that the user would not be precluded from filing for a future stream water permit.

For information about a specific water right or pending water use application, contact the OWRB’s Planning and Management Division at 405-530-8800. OWRB rules governing stream water rights administration in Oklahoma can be viewed at www.owrb.ok.gov under Rules, Chapter 20.

February 26, 2008

Governor Declares March Flood Insurance Month

OKLAHOMA CITY— Each year in Oklahoma, thousands of citizens experiencing flood damage lack the protection afforded through readily available flood insurance. To enhance awareness of the availability of federal flood insurance, as well as inform Oklahomans about intelligent floodplain management and development procedures, Governor Brad Henry has designated March as "Flood Insurance Month" in Oklahoma.

“All too often, property owners and renters become aware of flood insurance and other protection measures only after a flood has financially devastated them or their community,” says Duane Smith, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB).“ The Governor’s proclamation provides the OWRB, insurance companies, and emergency management organizations with a valuable opportunity to spread the word on the availability of relatively inexpensive flood insurance."

The timing of the Flood Insurance Month designation is appropriate because Oklahoma’s spring flooding season is just around the corner. “Most flood insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period,” Smith points out. “Historically, most of Oklahoma’s flooding disasters have occurred during the spring. Now is the time for those citizens who reside in designated floodplains to purchase flood insurance if they have not already.” Smith adds that a flood insurance policy could be purchased from any licensed property insurance agent.

Of the 54 Presidentially-declared disasters in Oklahoma since 1955, 36 have involved flooding, including four just last year. In an effort to mitigate such emergencies, Governor Dewey Bartlett designated the OWRB as the agency to coordinate the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1969. The NFIP assists Oklahoma and its 382 member communities by making flood insurance available at affordable rates and helping communi­ties make wise decisions concerning floodplain use. To be eligible for flood insurance, participants must establish a floodplain board, recognize floodplain boundaries, and restrict development in those areas. Such strategies typically result in reduced federal outlays to mitigate flood damages. The OWRB coordinates the NFIP in Oklahoma in a cooperative partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, Oklahoma Floodplain Managers Association, and Oklahoma Insurance Department.

As an integral part of Oklahoma’s spring flood insurance campaign, the OWRB is sponsoring one-day work­shops throughout the state to update city, county, and tribal flood­plain administrators on NFIP compli­ance requirements. The OWRB will also provide assistance in the development, administration, and enforcement of local floodplain management regulations that guide floodplain development . The Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) exam will be offered to pre-approved candidates at the close of each training day. There is no registration fee for the workshops, which feature speakers from the OWRB, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, City of Broken Arrow, Hydropower International Services, Meshek & Associates, the National Weather Service, and RD Flanagan & Associates.

Training is the key, according to Gavin Brady, OWRB State Floodplain Manager . “I want to impress upon city and county officials the importance of regular training at least annually. These educational opportunities not only help floodplain administrators better enforce local ordinances, but also build confidence.” Additional information, including maps to each location, can be found on the OWRB’s website at www.owrb.ok.gov.

The OWRB also works closely with the Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID) to educate state property/casualty agents and adjusters on NFIP rules and procedures. Because the Water Board’s workshops are accredited by the OID, agents and adjusters can earn up to six continuing education credits for attending at least one workshop every two years.

More than 88 percent of homes and businesses in the state that lie in the 100-year floodplain have no flood insurance, according to Brady. “It is disheartening relatively few people take advantage of the benefits afforded through the purchase of flood insurance, especially since it is inexpensive and offers such comprehensive protection against one of our most common natural disasters," he said.

For more information on Flood Insurance Month, call Gavin Brady at 918-581-2924.

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