Oklahoma Water Resources Board the Water Agency

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About the Program

Oklahoma's Water Quality Standards (WQS) were adopted by Oklahoma in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, applicable federal regulations, and state pollution control and administrative procedure statutes. WQS serve a dual role:

  • Establish WQ benchmarks
  • Basis for the development of WQ based pollution control programs, including discharge permits, which dictate specific treatment levels required of municipal and industrial wastewater dischargers.

The WQS consist of three main components: (1) designation of beneficial uses, (2) water quality criteria to protect the designated uses, and (3) antidegradation policies.

3 parts of WQ Standards

Beneficial Uses

Identification and protection of Beneficial Uses are vital to WQS implementation. Currently recognized Beneficial Uses Oklahoma waters include:

  • public and private water supply,
  • fish and wildlife propagation,
  • agriculture,
  • primary body contact recreation (such as swimming),
  • secondary body contact recreation (such as boating or fishing),
  • navigation,
  • aesthetics.

Physical, chemical, and biological data on Oklahoma’s rivers, streams, and lakes obtained primarily through two types of field sampling studies

  • Statewide through our ongoing baseline monitoring program (Beneficial Use Monitoring Program; "BUMP") where you can find data on virtually every major stream and lake in the state or
  • “Use Attainability Analyses” (UAA) that study individual sites or waters to determine its appropriate present and future Beneficial Uses, and set standards to protect them.

Through assignment of as many Beneficial Uses as are attainable, Oklahoma’s WQS ensure that existing water quality is not unduly impacted. Science-based narrative and numerical criteria imposed in the WQS ensure attainment of Beneficial Uses while limiting waste and pollution of state waters.


For water bodies that have quality greater than that required to protect Beneficial Uses, such as Scenic Rivers, some municipal water supply lakes, and water possessing critical habitat for endangered species, the WQS include an anti-degradation policy statement that provides more stringent protection and is designed to keep stream water quality from declining in these areas.


Criteria are intended to protect and support designated beneficial uses. Criteria may limit a particular pollutant or the condition of the waterbody. There are two types of criteria:

  • Numeric Criteria: which specify a precise measurable level of some parameter; and
  • Narrative Criteria: which provide a qualitative benchmark to assess water quality

Explicit Surface Water & Groundwater Protection

Although all Oklahoma surface water receives broad protection through the WQS, explicit protection is afforded to approximately 27,000 stream and river miles and 650,000 lake surface acres. Beneficial uses have also been assigned to all groundwaters of the state that have a mean concentration of Total Dissolved Solids of 10,000 milligrams per liter or less.

Implementation Rules

The Board also promulgates WQS Implementation Rules. Implementation Rules provide a bridge between WQS and water quality management by providing consistent application of numeric and narrative criteria. As in development of the WQS themselves, an extensive public participation process is utilized to ensure that the state’s water quality management process strikes an appropriate balance between environmental protection and sound public policy.

WQS Implementation Rules contain Use Support Assessment Protocols (USAP) for Oklahoma waterbodies. Developed in coordination with all Oklahoma environmental agencies, the USAP establish a consistent and scientific decision methodology for determining whether a waterbody’s beneficial uses are being supported, outlining minimum data requirements for that decision methodology.

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Last updated: December 21, 2022

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