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OCWP Instream Flow Workgroup

First commissioned in 2009, the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP) Instream Flow Workgroup conducted independent technical, legal, and policy analysis and developed a process to ascertain the suitability and structure of an instream flow program for Oklahoma.

Further consideration of an Instream Flow program became a priority recommendation of the 2012 OCWP Update, which specifically recommends adherence to the following process developed by the OCWP Instream Flow Workgroup:

  1. Address the legal and policy questions.
  2. Study other mechanisms for protecting instream flows.
  3. Develop a draft methodology for instream flow studies in Oklahoma.
  4. Conduct a study on the economic impacts of instream flows in Oklahoma.
  5. Perform an instream flow pilot study in a scenic river.
  6. Preserve the Instream Flow Workgroup.

download PDF ISF Background Report
download PDF 2012 OCWP Instream Flow Issues and Recommendations Report
download PDF 2012 OCWP Instream Flow Workgroup Considerations Summary Presentation
download PDF Instream Flows in Oklahoma and the West (technical memorandum)

What are Instream Flows?

Existing Mechanisms That Potentially Contribute to Instream Flows in Oklahoma

Instream Flow

Work Group Members | Meeting Archives

July 2019
Draft Pilot Study Final Report / Advisory Group Meeting
June 24th: a draft of the most recent Report on Phases 4 & 5 of the ISF Pilot Study was sent to the ISF Advisory Group with subsequent workshop to introduce the report and lessons learned. Through group interaction and in light of this latest report, the workshop informed and challenged the Group with the multiple elements and approaches available when contemplating how best to meet the multi-use long-term needs for water in Oklahoma.
With the completon of the work in this report, OWRB has completed the Alternative Analyses & Issue Resolution phases of the IFIM Pilot which presented the Phase 3 Habitat study to local stakeholders last year for feedback and direction. Finalization of this Pilot Study report are expected to be completed in August upon review by the ISF-AG.

Local Stakeholders Meeting
A public meeting was held on November 15, 2018 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center in Tahlequah. Approximately 33 individuals attended including facilitators. Presentations were given on findings from summer workshops. Anonymous opinion e-polls were taken of meeting participants and shared live, followed by 3 breakout sessions into small groups for written and verbal feedback on ISF concepts. A full group discussion with comments wrapped up the meeting.
This May, the ISF team expects to present the completed IFIM Pilot Process with its recommendations to the Advisory Work Group for feedback. A final report on this Pilot Study will follow including analyses of what was learned in the workshops and this meeting.

Pilot Study - Phase 4 Alternatives Analyses
Over this past summer, small group sessions were held with local stakeholders to discuss the results of the ISF Phase 3 Habitat Study and potential policy options those stakeholders might consider to meet current and projected (2060) needs of consumptive and non-consumptive beneficial uses on the upper Illinois River.
This meeting will review some of those discussions and solicit feedback from the broader community regarding policy options. Input from this meeting and the earlier stakeholder meetings will be included in our Final Report of the Upper  Illinois ISF Pilot Study and submitted to the OCWP Instream Flow Advisory Group.

August 2018
This summer, to address Phase 4 (Alternatives Analysis) of the Pilot Study, the study team brought together local stakeholders for 2 rounds of workshops specific to their interests for review and discussion of the findings in the Phase 3 habitat assessment report. The four stakeholder/interest groups: Agriculture, Recreation, Municipal/Industrial, and Aquatic Environment, were held in May at NSU in Tahlequah with follow-up workshops in July.

The primary goal was to come away with stakeholder recommendations on how they meet the projected 2060 needs of both consumptive and non-consumptive uses in the Upper Illinois basin given their particular set of interests. Using findings in the Phase 3 Report, the workshops looked at the variations in habitat availability at different flows along with demands to the same stream reaches projected from the OCWP out to 2060 and the possiblity for shortages in water supply to meet those needs. Then the groups discussed how such shortages might be dealt with. Are there ways to work together to meet everyone's needs at crucial times?

Phases 1-3 of 6 in the IFIM were completed in 2017 culminating in a Physical Habitat Simulation model (PHABSIM) and is presented in the Finalized Report linked below.

Next, IFIM Phases 4-6 will take what we learned from the PHABSIM and apply it to an Alternatives Analysis process with local stakeholders and endeavor to find consensus on how best to manage flows in the Study reaches.

Pilot Study Report: Illinois River ISF: Phase 3 Habitat Assessment (June 29, 2017 - 44 MB)

The Instream Flow (ISF) Advisory Group was created in 2013 to preserve and continue the efforts of the OCWP Instream Flow Workgroup. The Advisory Group has met on multiple occasions to discuss whether and how an instream flow program might be implemented in Oklahoma, including the possible development of a draft ISF methodology and performance of a pilot study in a designated watershed.

Advisory Group Meeting (OKC)
June 24, 2019 - 9:00-3:00 p.m. - OWRB Main Office

Advisory Group Meeting (OKC)
June 16, 2016 - 9:30-11:30 am - OWRB Main Office

Public Stakeholder Meeting (Tahlequah, OK)
June 16, 2016 - 6:30-8:00 pm - Armory Municipal Center

Public Stakeholder Meeting (Tahlequah, OK)
Jan. 21, 2016 - 6:30-8:00 pm - Armory Municipal Center

Public Stakeholder Meeting (Tahlequah, OK)
January 22, 2015

Summary of Instream Flow Advisory Group Activities and Recommendations (August 2014)

Instream Flow Pilot Study Approach (Revised June 15, 2014)

Advisory Group Meetings

January 16, 2014

October 7, 2013

May 16, 2013

March 1, 2013

Advisory Group Chair:

Julie Cunningham

Advisory Group Organizations and Representatives:

  • Oklahoma Dept. of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Blayne Arthur, Sec. of Agriculture)
  • Oklahoma Dept. of Environmental Quality (Joe Long)
  • Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation (Barry Bolton)
  • Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation (Tom Creider)
  • Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce (Mike Jackson)
  • Oklahoma Conservation Commission (Brooks Tramell)
  • Office of the Secretary of Energy & Environment (Carly Cordell)
  • Oklahoma City Water & Wastewater Utilities Dept. (Chris Browning)
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Kevin Stubbs)
  • U.S. Geological Survey (Shannon Brewer)
  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Nathan Kuhnert)
  • The Cherokee Nation (Tom Elkins)
  • Oklahoma Farm Bureau (Marla Peek)
  • Oklahoma Rural Water Association (James Gammill)
  • Oklahoma Municipal League (Daniel McClure)
  • OIPA-OKOGA (Mike Mathis)
  • Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association (Michael Kelsey)
  • Environmental Federation of Oklahoma (Howard "Bud" Ground)
  • The Nature Conservancy (Mike Fuhr)
  • Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy (Charlette Hearne)
  • Sierra Club (Mark Derichsweiler)

Advisory Group Sponsor:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Bryan Taylor, Tacy Jensen)

What are Instream Flows?

The meaning of the term “instream flows” has evolved over the years but usually describes the amount of water set aside in a stream or river to ensure downstream environmental, social and economic benefits are met (Instream Flow Issues & Recommendations, OCWP Supplemental Report, February 2011).

Minimum streamflows can contribute to the basic ecological integrity of the aquatic environment, support endangered species, and facilitate interstate compact compliance. Tourism and recreation, Oklahoma’s third largest industry, relies heavily upon dependable streamflows. This industry generates more than $6 billion per year while fish and wildlife enthusiasts alone spend upwards of $1.3 billion annually. While there are definite benefits in maintaining minimum instream flows in some Oklahoma streams, there are likewise valid concerns to consider, such as potential impacts to consumptive users due to reduced water availability, changes in the location of that availability, and related economic development implications.

The OCWP Instream Flow Workgroup conducted a thorough review of existing ISF programs in Oklahoma as well as in surrounding and western states. The majority of western states manage water via an appropriation system where water rights are granted for beneficial uses to fulfill irrigation, industrial, and municipal needs. Beginning in the 1970s, a number of western states began to incorporate ISFs, including protection for hydropower and navigation uses, into their existing appropriation systems.

The terminology and mechanisms used to legally protect ISFs vary from state to state. Some states issue specific water rights for ISFs while others set aside ISF reservations or environmental flows. Kansas does not have ISF water rights or reservations but uses "minimum desirable streamflow" as established by its legislature in 1984. Texas and California also do not have ISF water rights, but those states issue permits for new water uses conditioned for environmental flows. Oklahoma and North Dakota are the only two western states that do not legally define ISFs. While ISFs are not specifically defined in Oklahoma water law, they receive indirect flow contributions through the state's current water use programs and policies, including appropriative water rights, domestic use protection rules, the Scenic Rivers Act, reservoir release schedules, and interstate stream compacts.

Existing Mechanisms That Potentially Contribute to Instream Flows in Oklahoma

Although Oklahoma does not have a formal ISF program, such flows are considered at least partially protected under existing state programs and policies.

OWRB Domestic Use Policy
In its regular determination of water availability in Oklahoma, the OWRB sets aside six acre-feet of water per year per 160 acres of land to protect domestic uses, which do not require a permit. This calculation assumes one household in each quarter section (four per square mile) of each watershed in the state. It should be noted that even this conservative policy, which removes water from that otherwise available for appropriation, cannot guarantee that this amount of water will in fact be available during the extremely dry periods and conditions that all too often naturally impede water use in Oklahoma.

Scenic Rivers and Outstanding Resource Waters

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act (82 O.S. Sections 1451-1471) contains provisions concerning the maintenance of the "free-flowing" condition of scenic rivers. The Act describes scenic streams and rivers as those that "possess… unique natural scenic beauty, water conservation, fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation values of present and future benefit to the people of Oklahoma." The mission of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission was (Defunct, responsibilities now with the Grand River Dam Authority) to preserve and protect the aesthetic, scenic, historic, araeological and scientific features of the Illinois River and its tributaries (Lee Creek, Little Lee Creek, Baron [Barren] Fork Creek and Flint Creek) and the Upper Mountain Fork, all located in eastern Oklahoma. The free-flowing conditions of the six currently classified scenic rivers in Oklahoma are generally protected from impoundment. In addition to the standard considerations, the OWRB must consider several special, more restrictive, factors when determining water available for appropriation in scenic river watersheds. In 2002, the Board completed an instream flow study of the Baron Fork River and implemented a minimum instream flow of 50 cubic feet per second to be maintained before stream water can be diverted by Adair County Rural Water District 5.

Reservoir Releases

ISFs can also include those flows designated for release from a reservoir to regulate or maintain conditions downstream.

Interstate River Compacts

Interstate stream water compacts may also provide some protection or guarantee of minimum flows that must enter Oklahoma from upstream compact states and exit Oklahoma to downstream compact states. For each of the four compacts to which Oklahoma is party, compliance may be enforced at specific geographic locations, although typically the compacts contain few or no specific measures for allocating flows among tributaries upstream of a designated compliance point. While unique and often complex compact regulations make it difficult to quantify the specific ISF benefits associated with state obligations, they potentially provide for some level of ISF-related protection in many of the state's major river systems and their tributaries.


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