The year was 1962, and following a decade of drought, founders of the Arbuckles Project — a convergence of three creeks and keen minds just north of the Red River — signed a contract with the United States government, beginning a long-term investment in the future of southern Oklahoma.
Six years and millions of dollars of debt later, the sacrifice of those visionary southern Oklahomans turned acres of grass, dirt and trees into Arbuckles Lake.
And for the past 50 years, the Arbuckles Master Conservancy District has sent fresh Arbuckles Lake brew to residents and businesses in Ardmore, Sulphur, Davis, Wynnewood and Dougherty along with local refineries.
Despite being under budget and ahead of schedule, with the final note of the Arbuckles Project being paid off and celebrated in 2012, past and present contributors to the project, along with a host of state representatives, will honor the past and those who had the foresight to look toward the future at the 50th annual Arbuckles Project celebration tonight in Davis.
With other states, particularly the big one just to the south of the Red River, constantly plagued by water shortages, Steven Jolly, District Manager of the Arbuckles Master Conservancy District, said the event being held tonight is about the past and future.
“Those guys who started the project, it took a lot of sacrifice for them, they took on over $6 million in debt,” Jolly said. “Sometimes people here take having water for granted. This community has benefited a lot, and it should keep benefiting for a very long time.”
The celebration, being held at the District’s main office at 2440 E. Main Street in Davis, will host state Representatives Pat Ownbey, Frank Simpson and Charles McCall along with other leaders and invested parties in the project. Former state Representative and AMCD board member Danny Hilliard is the featured guest for the event.
Jolly said the Arbuckles Project and Arbuckles Lake, which currently supplies 95 percent of the water used in Ardmore, has paid off in many ways.
“Each year that goes by water becomes more precious, more valuable,” Jolly said. “If we don’t take it more serious by the day for conservation efforts, it won’t be good. That’s how Arbuckles Lake pays off.”
The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will feature live music from Davis’ Gary Pratt and barbeque.
And while the event will honor the past, Jolly said those in attendance will still follow the example of the founder of the project by keeping an eye on long-term sustainability.
After 17 years working at the District, Jolly’s main concern is Texas’ future reliance on Oklahoma water. He said for the sake of Oklahoma, the state needs to put itself first.
“I like Texas people, but they’re after our water,” Jolly said. “That’s the one thing we got to make sure of, that we have plenty for us first. When we go through times of drought we don’t have any extra. I’m afraid if the tap was ever started it would be an obligation we couldn’t maintain.”
Going forward, Jolly said Oklahoma needs to be on the defense and make sure to protect its water not just in southern Oklahoma but at the state level.
“We’re not stingy, we’re just the ones that went into debt millions of dollars, which would have cost hundreds of millions today, to build these projects,” Jolly added. “We have to think of ourselves first and everyone else second.”