The Oklahoma Water Resources Board took steps Tuesday to lower the amount of water that can be removed in a single year from the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer in southern Oklahoma.
The board approved recommendations from its staff that would lower the amount of water that can be withdrawn from the aquifer in a single year from two acre feet per acre to two-tenths of an acre foot per acre — 10 times less than the old regulations allow for at present.
An implementation time frame of five years also has been recommended by the agency's staff due to the fragile state of the aquifer, which is considered a sole-source groundwater basin.
Brian Vance, a water resources board spokesman, said the proposed maximum yields won't take effect until a public hearing is held in May and a final determination is approved by the water board some time after that.
Public comment on the actions taken by the water board Tuesday is scheduled for May 22 in Sulphur. A precise time and location have yet to be announced.
Vance said the recommendations, which have drawn both support and opposition, could change following the public hearing in May. He said a hearing examiner also will make recommendations to the water board based on what happens at the meeting in Sulphur.
“That maximum annual yield number could change, depending on evidence collected at the hearing,” Vance said. “The hearing examiner will also make a proposed order the board will consider before moving forward.”
Vance says Senate Bill 288, which passed in 2003, directed the water board to determine maximum annual yields to protect the drinking water supply for the region.
The bill also placed a moratorium on transferring water out of the aquifer until the board can determine how much water can be withdrawn without reducing stream flows to unsustainable levels. The ban on water transfers remains in place.
The Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer lies beneath parts of Carter, Coal, Johnston, Murray and Pontotoc counties in southern Oklahoma.
Dick Scalf, mayor of Ada, says complying with the water board's recommendations could end up costing his city between $8 million and $12 million. Despite that, he says he's “greatly in favor it.”
“It's just a matter of raising the money and buying the extra water,” Scalf said. “We would prefer a little longer implementation time than five years, but it's the right thing to do.”