In Oklahoma, stream water is considered to be publicly owned and subject to appropriation by the OWRB (except in the Grand River Basin). As defined by state law, stream water is that which occurs in a definite natural channel with defined beds and banks. Although appropriative rights are fundamental to the use of stream water in Oklahoma, exceptions are made for domestic uses by the riparian landowner and the capture and storage of diffused surface water (that not occurring in a definite stream, lake, or pond) on the landowner's property, provided the natural flow of the stream is maintained.
Current Oklahoma water law and OWRB regulations require that a permit application be filed prior to the diversion of water. Before a stream water permit is approved by the Board, four conditions must be satisfied: 1) the applied for amount of unappropriated water must be available, 2) a present or future need for the water must exist and the intended use must be beneficial, 3) the use of water must not interfere with domestic or existing appropriative uses, and 4) the use must not interfere with existing or proposed beneficial uses within the stream system and the needs of the area's water users if the application is for the transportation of water for use outside the area where the water originates.
Prior to consideration by the Board, notice of the permit application must be published in newspapers in the county where the diversion is to take place and in the adjacent downstream county. Any interested party, especially those whose interests could be affected by the proposed use of water, may protest issuance of the permit. In such cases, the Board will hold an administrative fact-finding hearing on the matter.
The Board may place certain conditions upon the permit to protect existing rights and uses and current stream flows and to address other issues of importance. The permit is also usually conditioned upon timely construction of works and commencement of use (normally two years) and upon full use of the annually authorized amount within the seven-year period following permit issuance and at least once in a continuous seven-year period thereafter. If water authorized by regular permit is not put to beneficial use within the specified time, the OWRB may reduce or cancel the unused amount and return the water to the public domain for appropriation to others. However, when full use of the permitted water is contingent upon a pending project, the permit can be conditioned upon a schedule allowing phased-in use over a longer period of time.
The Board issues five types of permits for stream water use: regular, authorizing the holder to appropriate water year around; seasonal, allowing diversion of water for specified periods; temporary, authorizing water use for up to three months; term, spelling out water use for a given number of years; and provisional temporary, which is nonrenewable, allowing appropriation for up to 90 days. The provisional temporary permit is the only one that does not require a public hearing and subsequent approval by the Board. Permits for the use of stream water may be transferred or assigned, although those authorized for irrigation purposes remain appurtenant to the lands irrigated.