On Wednesday, Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation received high praise for its initiation and support of legislation that will fund a dozen or more state water planning studies. HR 3183, the fiscal 2010 Energy-Water appropriations bill, passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday by a convincing 320-97 vote.
According to Duane Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), “The bill contains funding for crucially important water management studies, evaluations of both public and agricultural supplies, and identification of alternatives to meet future water needs – all initiatives championed by Senator Jim Inhofe and supported by every member of our House delegation.”
The Energy-Water bill also delineates spending levels for programs administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation for fiscal year 2010. The Senate is preparing to take up its version of the bill in the coming weeks.
Smith adds that the $30 million included in the bill will underwrite the Red River Chloride Control Project, a plan conceptualized almost half a century ago to augment water supplies in arid southwest Oklahoma. Another study will identify alternatives to augment water dependability at Lake Lugert-Altus, a major source of irrigation in that region. The bill further contemplates major investigations of water resources in southeast Oklahoma.
“We should consider ourselves fortunate to have forward-thinking individuals, who, much like Oklahoma’s former water pioneers in Washington D.C., are dedicated to the protection and preservation of our most precious natural resource. I know that if Carl Albert, Robert S. Kerr, and others were alive today, they would join me in applauding our current Congressional leaders for this initiative,” Smith points out.
Almost $2 million is included in the legislation specifically to support quantity and quality studies that are part of the ongoing update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP). The OCWP is entering the fourth year of a five-year update.
“The primary intent of the Water Plan is to conduct an exhaustive inventory of water supplies and evaluate future needs, and then utilize that data to identify feasible alternatives in every region of the state – through infrastructure and additional supply development – that can satisfy those anticipated foreseeable demands,” Smith adds. “But beyond studies and data and reports, these appropriations will help us actually implement solutions in areas where we see gaps in current or future supply.”
Smith also endorses the process through which Oklahoma’s water project needs were identified. The OWRB has been working with its federal partners at the Corps of Engineers and Bureau, as well as Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation and staff, to implement a state-driven planning approach.
With the Water Plan, he adds, the OWRB has retooled its planning process through robust public participation that seeks to establish local needs based on citizen input, utilizing the state’s technical expertise to design projects. Similarly, Oklahoma is taking its water needs to the federal government and using its considerable expertise and experience to implement state water projects.
“For years, the Corps and other federal agencies have selected water projects based on national, rather than state, priorities and concerns. State water agencies, which are most familiar with the needs of their citizens, are rarely afforded input into the Congressional authorization and funding process and thus viable state projects are often overshadowed by the federal government’s perception of state needs. The result being that many projects are designed in response to local, rather than regional, problems and issues,” Smith explains.
“But today, with support from our federal partners, we’ve established a project evaluation process focusing on broad-based water planning initiatives that not only provides more bang for the buck, but results in defensible funding decisions. Working with our Congressional delegation and leadership in the Oklahoma Legislature, I am confident that very soon the Oklahoma Model will become the benchmark by which all cooperative planning will be measured,” Smith says.