Oklahoma Conservation Comission

An active aggregate mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s four primary environmental agencies have lost more than $15 million in state appropriations and tens of millions of dollars in legislatively directed reductions to revolving funds, OETA reports.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board project coordinator Jason Murphy samples water in the frigid Canadian River east of Oklahoma City.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

After months of deliberation and closed-door meetings, lawmakers in the Oklahoma House and Senate are poised to cut a deal to fill a $1.3 billion shortfall and fund government for 2017.

The $6.8 billion presumptive budget agreement has been praised for preserving money for education, prisons and Medicaid, but some of the sharpest cuts are aimed at agencies that regulate industry and protect the environment.

Children play in a small tributary of the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla., in May 2015.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oil and gas are endangering the Oklahoma’s streams, soil and wetlands. Not by polluting them, but because plummeting oil prices have blown a billion-dollar hole in the state’s budget. Funding cuts at agencies that manage Oklahoma’s natural resources could threaten the state’s beauty, as well as people’s lives and property, officials say.

Several Oklahoma farmers wander through a field of broad-leafed cover crops during a state Conservation Commission workshop in Dewey County in western Oklahoma.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Generations of tilling and planting on the same land have left Oklahoma’s soil in poor shape. And if farmers don’t change the way they grow crops, feeding the future won’t be easy. As Slapout, Okla., farmer Jordan Shearer puts it: “We’re creating a desert environment by plowing the damn ground.”

Taking A Toll

State agencies and departments are starting the process of developing operating plans for next fiscal year based on the budget appropriations passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Fallin.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs received an increase that will keep a facility open, but the Oklahoma Arts Council took at 7.25 percent cut that will affect the arts grants to organizations statewide.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission also received less funding that will affect operations and a federal allocation for dam repair. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation receives no state tax dollars but anticipates a larger budget because of increasing license fees. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management’s budget decreases will not affect operations because of federal funding to the department.

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.)
Provided / U.S. House of Representatives

The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts is getting geared up for its annual meeting this weekend.

The statewide group's 77th annual meeting begins Sunday and runs through Tuesday in Midwest City.

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District is the meeting's keynote speaker.

During the meeting, conservationists are expected to discuss subjects such as improving soil health, water quality and maintaining upstream flood control dams.

Aerial view of Wister Lake and Dam on the Poteau River and the Fourche Maline creek in Le Flore County, Oklahoma, USA. The dam was constructed in 1949 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and water supply.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Wikimedia Commons

Update: an earlier version of this story said the Oklahoma legislature had appropriated $30 million towards the project. The actual appropriation was $3 million.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission primarily will be focusing on watershed rehabilitation during the coming legislative session, Executive Director Trey Lam said Monday following a meeting.