water

A bill to study the possibility of moving water from eastern Oklahoma — where it’s abundant — to western Oklahoma — which has been suffering under half a decade of drought — has residents in the east worried about what transferring water out of their area would mean for their own water supply and the tourism so many communities there rely on. 

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.

Senator Jim Inhofe / Facebook

A rare joint Congressional hearing in Washington Wednesday took up the issue of ‘Waters of the United States,’ the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to more clearly define which bodies of water qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.

Republicans at the hearing — including Oklahoma’s senior U.S. senator and state attorney general — are convinced the move is a vast overreach of the EPA’s power that will place everything from ditches to farm ponds under government control.

drought, cattle
AgriLife Today / Flickr

Since the current drought in western Oklahoma began, ranchers have collected more than $800 million in federal drought relief payments that aid livestock producers. That’s more than any other state, including California and Texas, which have larger cattle industries, The Oklahoman‘s Silas Allen reports.

Here’s why:

Will Archer, manager of the Mountain Park Master Conservancy District, at the Tom Steed Reservoir dam.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Most of western Oklahoma is in its fifth year of drought with still no end in sight, despite a wetter than normal end to 2014.  And many of the lakes communities rely on for drinking water are now on the verge of being too low to use. The situation is most dire in Altus, Duncan, and Canton.

Tom Steed Lake

Rebecca Cruise discusses Wednesday's attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris, and Joshua Landis explains Saudi Arabia’s role in the ongoing fall of global oil prices.

Later, a conversation with Jan-Willem Rosenboom. He’s a senior program officer for water, sanitation and hygiene at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and he and Suzette Grillot talk about market solutions to the sanitation crisis in developing countries. 

In 2008, children collected and carried water from the Savelugu Dam, an area known for a high prevalence of guinea worm. Since then, Ghana has successfully eliminated guinea worm nationwide.
Gates Foundation / Flickr

The American non-governmental organization Water.org estimates 11 percent of the population lacks access to safe water, and that women and children spend 200 million hours per day collecting water.

Jan-Willem Rosenboom is a Senior Program Officer for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He says the organization realized they were effective at community level-work, but didn’t have good ways to deliver services on a large scale.

The December 30, 2014 update of the U.S. Drought Monitor for Oklahoma.
U.S. Drought Monitor

The drought in southwest Oklahoma has lingered for more than four years now, and it will take more than a wet end to 2014 to stop it — a lot more.

Despite receiving above average December precipitation, the City of Duncan will ban all outdoor watering beginning next week. That’s because water levels in Waurika Lake, Duncan’s only current drinking water source, continue to drop.

Explore Oklahoma’s dams with StateImpact’s interactive map detailing their age, type, owner, hazard classification and reported failures.

Oklahoma has the fifth-largest dam inventory in the United States. Ownership of the 4,700 dams is largely split between government agencies and private entities, including individual owners and other organizations like homeowner’s associations.

Families and a fisherman along the spillway beneath Broken Bow Dam in southeastern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma has nearly 5,000 dams, more than most other states. When they were built, they were classified based on the risk their failure would pose to people and property.

But for many dams, it’s been decades since that risk was evaluated, and the potential hazard has changed because Oklahoma has changed. There are houses, roads and people where there weren’t before.

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