THE draft of the state's comprehensive water plan has been deemed inadequate by one southeastern Oklahoma lawmaker and has been met tepidly by two Indian tribes. Why are we not surprised?
State Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, is among a host of legislators from that part of the state who object to the idea of transferring water to other regions of Oklahoma or selling surplus water to out-of-state interests. Among other things, the water plan takes a stab at estimating how much surplus water might be available in the state's many watersheds and regions.
Those estimates, Cannaday says, don't include what will be needed for nonconsumptive uses such as tourism and recreation. He fears the plan's estimates could provide fodder for Texas entities that have gone to court to try to gain access to some of our surplus water.
Meanwhile an attorney for the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes says the definition of “surplus” can't be made until the tribes conclude a regional water study of their own and tribal water rights are addressed.
The head of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board defends the work done by his staff and says the issues raised by Cannaday and the tribes were considered. The OWRB spent five years and nearly $12 million on the study, which is expected to be formally approved by the agency in October.
The reactions to the report bolster our concern about whether a special House-Senate committee will actually be able to draft significant long-term policy. The water report is intended to serve as a blueprint for the committee, which includes members from across the state.
One major challenge will be finding a way to pay for improvements to water-related infrastructure, which the report estimates will cost $87 billion over the next 50 years. Selling excess water to help pay for that work strikes us as sensible, but legal challenges by tribes, other staunch opposition and actions taken by the Legislature have all but sunk that idea.
Concerns about water are heightened, too, by the drought in many parts of Oklahoma. Indeed water protectionists have used the d-word regularly in arguing against transferring or selling water. But those arguments have been the same for years, regardless of annual rainfall totals. For some, any change in the status quo as it pertains to water will be unacceptable.
Five years, close to $12 million. That's a lot of time and money to pour down the drain, although we fear that could be the result as the legislative committee tries to reach consensus on any sort of reasonable long-term policy. As the histrionics to date make clear, Oklahoma is an oil and gas state but water is its most precious commodity.