Oklahoma Water Resources Board

OWRB Executive Director J.D. Strong (left) addresses members of the water board at its Oct. 23, 2013 meeting.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

One of Oklahoma's top water officials will have a new job a little less than a month from now.

J.D. Strong will become the state Department of Wildlife Conservation’s executive director after six years leading the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

He’ll transition in October after the Governor’s Water Conference is over, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

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.

State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester
Provided / Oklahoma House of Representatives

State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, and three of his House colleagues on Monday wrote a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asking for his opinion on whether it’s legal for members of the state Water Resources Board to stay on the OWRB even after their positions have been eliminated.

Renegar wrote on behalf of Representatives Donnie Condit, Ed Cannaday, and Johnny Tadlock, all from southeast Oklahoma:

Atoka Lake in southeast Oklahoma, a focal point of the controversy over who controls water in that part of the state.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Southeast Oklahoma has many of the state’s largest lakes and rivers and much of the state’s water, but no one from the area serves on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the state’s water regulator. A 2013 law requires the area to have representation. But, so far, that hasn’t happened.

Water But No Rep

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.

Corn, Okla., Mayor Barbara Nurnberg outside city hall in January 2016.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

It costs a lot of money to clean, transport and dispose of water. Big cities can spread the cost of multi-million dollar sewer or treatment projects across thousands of customers. But many small Oklahoma towns don’t have that option, and often rely on a state-funded grant program that’s being squeezed by budget cuts.


Crumbling Infrastructure

Jet Stein with the OWRB's lake monitoring program prepares to test the water at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Water contaminated by algae blooms or choked by sediment and pollutants kills wildlife and isn’t healthy for humans. It’s up to the state to make sure Oklahoma’s lakes and rivers are safe, but budget cuts are threatening that mission, officials say.

Water Funding Roller Coaster

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

Oklahoma's economy runs on oil. The energy industry drives 1 in 5 jobs and is tied to almost every type of tax source, so falling oil prices have rippled into a state budget crisis.

Crude oil prices have dropped more than 70 percent, and that's created problems across government agencies in Oklahoma. Jason Murphy is a project coordinator for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. He slides on a pair of waders, unspools a sensor probe and splashes into the frigid Canadian River east of Oklahoma City.

Gov. Mary Fallin speaking at the 2013 Governor's Energy Conference in Tulsa, Okla.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 36th annual Oklahoma Governor’s Water Conference in Norman included the usual fare: updates on regional water plans, drought mitigation, and experts from other states sharing their water insights. But Gov. Mary Fallin came with a new idea to save water — and reduce earthquakes.

Piles of crushed limestone along railroad tracks near Mill Creek, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma County District Judge Barbara Swinton on Wednesday ordered the long disputed limits on how much water can be taken from one of the state’s most sensitive aquifers — the Arbuckle-Simpson in south-central Oklahoma — to go forward.

The court was hearing an appeal of the limit from groups including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, Oklahoma Aggregates Association, and mining company TXI — all petitioners in the case.

OWRB water resources geologists Derrick Wagner and Jessica Correll analyze readings from their well at the Spencer Mesonet station.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Almost half of the water used by Oklahomans comes from aquifers, and four years of drought increased that reliance. This year’s record-setting rainfall filled up the state’s lakes, but recharging aquifers doesn’t happen so quickly.

Craig Nance, owner of Nance Landscaping in Altus, Okla. says he hasn't done a landscaping job in Altus in three or four years because of the drought.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

This May already ranks as one of the wettest in state history, and continues to snuff out the four-year drought that dried up cities in southwest Oklahoma. Water rationing helped keep Duncan, Lawton, and Altus afloat, but those cities are now scaling back their water saving mandates.

Praise And Worry

Welcome to Duncan, Okla. sign.
J. STEPHEN CONN / Flickr Creative Commons

Duncan, Oklahoma has taken some of the worst of the drought these past five years. Stage 5 water rationing is in effect, which means — with few exceptions — a ban on all outside watering.

Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy board member Chuck Hutchinson speaking to the Wilburton, Okla. 20th Century Club Feb. 10.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

After 5 years of drought, Oklahoma’s dwindling water resources have the attention of state lawmakers. There are competing bills to study moving waterfrom southeast Oklahoma to the Altus area, and to encourage self-sufficient,regionally based plans to meet future water needs.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor says more than 1.8 million Oklahomans are being affected by an ongoing, deepening drought.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board says that in the past month, the percentage of Oklahoma classified as being in exceptional drought has decreased slightly, but more than 60% of the state still remains classified in moderate drought or worse.