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water

Ed Fite, executive director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, stands next to a mountain of life vests at one of the resorts on the Illinois River.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Come July 1, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission will be no more.

Gov. Mary Fallin on May 11 signed a bill disbanding the small state agency, transferring its mission — and employees — to the Grand River Dam Authority, which now takes on the Commission’s role of keeping Oklahoma’s six scenic rivers clean and safe for tourists.

Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, in early May was tapped by his Republican colleagues to be their next leader.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Republicans in the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week chose a new leader for 2017: Charles McCall. The Republican is from Atoka in southeast Oklahoma, which could bring a unique perspective on water to the Capitol.

Big Fights Back Home

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and audience members listen to a presentation on right-to-farm at the April 19 meeting in Tahlequah, Okla.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Budget cuts and the death of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission were the thrust of mid-April’s regular meeting of the OSRC. But the real fireworks were around State Question 777, which you’ve probably heard referred to as ‘right-to-farm. What you probably haven’t heard it called yet is “State Question 666.”

Nathan and Brooke Hall.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Brooke Hall has lived in the Parkway Mobile Home Park most of her life. She’s never really liked the taste of the water that comes from the park’s wells, but she didn’t think it could be dangerous until she was in the hospital giving birth to her son.

“Doctors and nurses told me I needed to stop breastfeeding while they did blood work and tested for lead because they were afraid that, because I was drinking the water, that it would be passed through to him,” she says.

Grave sites at the Sardis Cemetery go back well into the 19th century and many of them are homemade.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The fight over control of Sardis Lake and water across southeastern Oklahoma pits the state against Native American tribes. To the Choctaw and Chickasaw who live in the area today — and for the Caddo who preceded them — water isn’t just vital to life: It’s culturally sacred.

 

Oklahoma’s lakes drive millions of dollars of tourism to otherwise impoverished parts of the state. But the local economy around Sardis Lake is missing out because of uncertainty about the water’s future.
Allison Herrera / Invisible Nations

Oklahoma’s lakes drive millions of dollars of tourism to otherwise impoverished parts of the state. But the local economy around Sardis Lake is missing out because of uncertainty about the water’s future.

‘DID YOU SEE ANYBODY?’

Pat Starbuck outside the Choctaw Nation Community Center in Talihina.
Allison Herrera / Invisible Nations

Sardis Lake, in southeastern Oklahoma, is at the heart of a battle between state and tribal governments over control of water. Debate has raged over whether to pipe to north Texas, Oklahoma City, or western Oklahoma ever since it was built in the early 1980s. Stuck in the middle are the people who call the Sardis area home.

Several miles down the rugged, potholed Savage Road, just past the western edge of Lake Sardis is a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere.

The city of Oklahoma City’s Chisholm Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant at Coffee Creek Road and N. Western Avenue in Edmond.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

The company that agreed to pay a nearly $1 million fine for water problems in Hugo earlier this week could soon get a new contract. The Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust Authority unanimously approved the proposed contract with Severn Trent Services on Tuesday.

The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports Councilman Pete White, who sits on both bodies, said he’s convinced the problems in Hugo were an aberration, not a pattern:

Dustin Green, owner of 10 Acre Woods farm near Norman, feeds a few of his 400 or so chickens.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Will Oklahoma be more like Missouri or North Dakota?

In Missouri, Right-to-farm — a constitutional amendment that broadly protects the agricultural industry from future laws and regulations — was a contentious fight that pitted farmer against farmer and forced a recount of the statewide vote. But in North Dakota, Right-to-Farm passed by a 2-to-1 margin.

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

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