Oklahoma's drought, which began in 2010, is now considered worse than the drought of the 1950s. Yearly rainfall levels are lower than even the 1930s drought. At the end of January, 92 percent of Oklahoma was experiencing at least extreme drought and 37 percent was experiencing exceptional drought. Reservoirs are low, with as little as 16 percent of capacity at one lake. Cattle herd size in Oklahoma is falling to lows not seen in decades. Cotton farming faces an uncertain future. The drought's impact on Oklahoma agriculture is already an estimated $2 billion.
And if this summer is as bad as recent years, things will only get worse.
“We need to get ready if we are indeed going into another year of drought,” Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, told The Oklahoman's editorial board this week. “If we've got another summer like we've seen in the last two, we've got some serious challenges in front of us.”
In response, three bills filed at the Legislature would create a state emergency drought fund of up to $10 million, potentially seeded with Rainy Day Fund cash. Under that plan, if the governor declares an emergency, a task force of water, agriculture and conservation experts would prioritize requests for cost-sharing assistance for things like livestock water, irrigation improvement, fire suppression and other drought needs. The governor would then have to approve those recommendations. This is a prudent idea, although we think someone with a fire-response background should be included in the evaluation process.
As they say, the failure to plan is a plan to fail. In some areas, Oklahoma's water needs could reach crisis points if the drought continues. Preparing to address those challenges is simply good management.
And should we experience plentiful rain before summer, the money simply goes unspent. Better to plan without need than to face need without a plan.