Several scattered rainstorms throughout 2013 helped alleviate some of the state’s thirst, but the break came far short of quenching an ongoing drought that has parched much of the region.
While much of the state has avoided the severe water shortages facing California, parts of Texas and other areas, Oklahomans still must be cautious about how water is used, state leaders say.
“Over the course of the last year, it certainly has improved conditions, particularly in the eastern half of the state,” said J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. “But the drought has essentially crept back in over most of the state. The southwest quarter of the state has not seen a break. They are in entering their fourth year of extreme drought.”
Oklahoma has spent the past four years in one of the drier periods in state history. The drought has been especially painful because it was preceded by the longest, wettest period since at least the late 1800s.
Over the past 130 years, Oklahoma generally has seen about a decade of rain followed by a decade of drought. The pattern changed with almost 30 years of rain before the current drought.
“We basically have an entire generation of farmers and ranchers with no knowledge of farming and ranching under drought conditions,” said Dave Shideler, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University. “The same thing can be said of city managers and company managers. We’re having to retrain and reeducate people about how to operate under drought conditions.”
While drought conditions have affected much of the Oklahoma economy, they also have focused attention on the state’s oil and natural gas industry, which has been ramping up drilling operations, which use large amounts of water, over the past several years.
Much of the drilling activity has been focused on western Oklahoma, where rain is more scarce and the ongoing drought has made water more precious.
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