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

Before the consistent, heavy rains over the past week, Waurika Lake — the main source of water for Lawton and Duncan — was on the very brink of drying up too much to be used. Years of punishing drought led to the crisis, but what a difference a few days can make.

Kevin Anders, standing at the lectern, who represents Midwest City on the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District board, engaged in an exchange with council members Tuesday about whether he would support the water reuse plan.
Sarah Terry-Cobo / The Journal Record

Tuesday night the city council in Midwest City approved a non-binding resolution rejecting a water proposal that would put treated wastewater back in Lake Thunderbird.

The large reservoir about 10 miles east of Norman is shared by the two communities, as well as Del City. All three draw raw water from the lake, but two city officials disagree over how and where to treat the wastewater in the supply chain.

Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

With concern over drought at a high point and plans to get water from southeast Oklahoma falling through, the City of Norman decided in 2014 to pursue a plan to clean water that has been used by customers and return it to Lake Thunderbird — the city’s main water source — to be used again.

Oklahoma State Capitol
Joseph Novak / Flickr

There’s only about a month left in Oklahoma’s 2015 legislative session, and if bills haven’t made it out of the chamber they started in by now, they’re dead.

A sign along Oklahoma Highway 43 near Sardis Lake.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Moving water from where it’s plentiful to where it’s needed seems like a logical way to meet all Oklahomans’ future water needs. But water transfers are complicated, and not just because they’re expensive  but because communities with lots of water want to keep it. Nothing illustrates this tension better than Sardis Lake.

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.

The current Lee Creek Reservoir near Van Buren, Ark.
Logan Layden / StateImpact

In Oklahoma, the natural beauty of Lee Creek — one of the state’s scenic rivers — is protected by state law. In Arkansas, Lee Creek is an important water source for fast-growing Fort Smith. Now, Fort Smith has a plan to turn Lee Creek into Oklahoma’s next lake, and reignite a dispute that was settled more than 20 years ago.

A Lockheed WC-130B used by U.S. government researchers Stormfury, a cloud seeding research project focused on reducing the strength of hurricanes.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Five years of drought has strangled lakes and reservoirs in southwestern Oklahoma.

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:

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 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.