As the state's designated water management agency, the OWRB appropriates stream and groundwater supplies to various water users in the state. Permits are issued for the use of both surface and groundwaters in Oklahoma (domestic uses are exempt) and all waters must be used beneficially without waste. Water is allotted in units called acre-feet, the amount that would cover one acre of land with water one foot deep or 325,851 gallons.
Any person who intends to acquire a water right must file a permit application to be considered for approval by the nine-member Water Board. Stream water is considered to be public water subject to appropriation, while groundwater is private property that belongs to the overlying surface owner, subject to reasonable regulation by the OWRB. Surface supplies in the Grand River Basin, including a major portion of northeast Oklahoma, are under the jurisdiction of the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA).
Beneficial uses of water, a fundamental requirement in the administration of water rights, include agriculture, irrigation, water supply, hydroelectric power generation, municipal, industrial, navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife propagation. While state law recognizes no priority among these uses, water needed for public supply (including drinking and domestic use) and vital economic activities generally take precedence during drought and related local water emergencies. Permits are not required for household or domestic purposes.
"Domestic use" means the use of water by a natural individual or by a family or household for household purposes, for farm and domestic animals up to the normal grazing capacity of the land whether or not the animals are actually owned by such natural individual or family, and for the irrigation of land not exceeding a total of three (3) acres in area for the growing of gardens, orchards, and lawns [82:105.1(B)]. Domestic use also includes:(1) the use of water for agriculture purposes by natural individuals, (2) use of water for fire protection, and (3) the use of water by nonhousehold entities for drinking water purposes, restroom use, and the watering of lawns, provided that the amount of stream water used for any such purposes does not exceed five acre-feet per year.