The availability and quality of water across Oklahoma are the focus of three interim legislative studies requested by members of the state House of Representatives.
Reps. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau, and Charles Ortega, R-Altus, proposed a study of a potential water transfer system – which previously generated public interest and heated controversy in equal measure.
Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, joined with Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, to request a “fact finding” interim study that would focus on “responsible water use” and ideas for developing new sources of water.
And Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, suggested a study of the water quality in Norman and the 256 square-mile watershed of Lake Thunderbird, which is a source of drinking water for Norman, Midwest City and Del City.
Speaker Jeff Hickman said he would announce his study approvals, and the committees to which he assigned those studies, by July 11.
“I want to evaluate the feasibility of a water transportation system from northeastern Oklahoma to southwestern Oklahoma,” said Sherrer. “The focus would be on the measurement and the delivery of only surplus water, and only to other Oklahomans,” he emphasized. “And I realize the word ‘surplus’ can be an extremely subjective term.”
The Comprehensive Water Plan updated by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and delivered to the public in 2012 (http://www.owrb.ok.gov/supply/ocwp/pdf_ocwp/WaterPlanUpdate/draftreports/OCWP Executive Rpt FINAL.pdf) included an estimation of “excess and surplus water of this state” by 2060, almost half a century from now.
Sherrer said he would invite representatives of Native American tribes that have riparian rights in eastern Oklahoma to participate in the study, if it is approved.
“Specifically,” he said, “I am interested in the feasibility of a pipeline system and the involvement of the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority, and the Grand River Dam Authority, together with municipalities and regional water boards in southwestern Oklahoma, as well as the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.”
“I’d like to explore what past studies of this issue revealed in terms of cost, capability and infrastructure,” Ortega said. For example, he indicated that one matter he’d like to determine is whether there are existing pipelines or canals that could be employed to transport excess water from a “wet” location in Oklahoma to a “dry” one, without having to construct a lengthy pipeline from one corner of the state to another.
The comprehensive water plan prepared more than 30 years ago, in 1980, included a proposed Statewide Water Conveyance System that would have entailed construction of separate northern and southern systems. The new Comprehensive Water Plan revisits that study (http://www.owrb.ok.gov/supply/ocwp/pdf_ocwp/WaterPlanUpdate/draftreports/OCWP_WaterConveyance_Study.pdf) and mentions that “smaller scale regional conveyance systems may be viable options for eliminating projected water shortages and should be investigated.”
“We have a lot of water resources in this state,” Ortega said. “But they aren’t always located where they’re most needed.” (see accompanying chart)
Oklahomans from every sector in the state “need to come together and work on this issue,” he added, “because it affects all of us.”
Echols said he and McBride want to approach the subject from a different angle.
“We’re not interested in moving water from one reservoir to another,” he said. “We’re interested in capturing water that’s currently escaping,” such as runoff rainwater. “We want to know how to develop new units of water.”
One new concept that’s gaining traction in water-stressed parts of the nation – including Norman and Oklahoma City; Texas and California; Las Vegas, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz. – is water reuse, such as mixing treated, purified wastewater with disinfected freshwater. Currently, throughout most of the United States, treated wastewater is simply discharged downstream rather than being recycled.
Echols also said he and McBride want to delve into “the responsible use of water” in Oklahoma. For example, he said, “Some communities in this state are losing 40 percent of their water,” via evaporation and/or leaky distribution systems.
“This is not a partisan political issue,” he said, echoing Ortega. “We need to start a dialogue throughout the state regarding this issue.”