As climate scientists predict hotter, dryer summers and more intense drought in the coming decades, state and local leaders in Oklahoma are trying to get residents to think differently about how they use water.
As demand for water grows, state and local officials are looking at ways to make better use of the water the state has. In many cases, communities are reusing water that flows down residents’ sinks, showers and, yes, toilets as a way to keep up with demand.
J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said city leaders across the state have been looking for creative ways to conserve water for several years. But four years of drought has made residents more aware of the need for conservation, as well, he said.
The board is one of the lead agencies in the Water for 2060 campaign, an effort to ensure the state has an ample drinking water supply for decades to come.
“That means preparing for the worst of times,” Strong said.
The campaign was outlined in the Water for 2060 Act, a bill signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2012. The primary goal behind the act is to ensure that Oklahoma uses no more fresh water in 2060 than it used in 2012, Strong said. To do that, state and local leaders will need to rethink where and how they use fresh, drinkable water, Strong said.
Some cities have been reusing partially treated wastewater on a small scale for years, Strong said. Oklahoma City, for example, sends partially treated wastewater to Gaillardia Country Club to water the golf course. But now, cities are beginning to look at more expansive use of wastewater.
Oklahoma City officials plan to upgrade the city’s water system to allow the reuse of water from the Deer Creek wastewater treatment plant. City officials have said treated wastewater would be of a consistently higher quality than the variable river water that flows into Lake Hefner.
Norman city officials are also including wastewater reuse as a part of the city’s 60-year water plan, and Lawton city leaders have considered a similar move.
The Obama Administration’s National Climate Assessment warns of greater extremes in precipitation across the Great Plains, including heavier rain and snow events and more intense droughts. The assessment, which represents work done by more than 300 scientists nationwide, was released in May.
According to the assessment, the effects of climate change are already being felt nationwide. The report warns that residents of the Great Plains, including Oklahoma, should expect hotter, drier conditions over the next few decades as those effects intensify.
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