- Ada, Oklahoma


February 5, 2014

Water law: the good, the bad, the potentially ugly


Ada —

This is sort of like trying to manage your checking account when someone you don’t know has access to your bankcard. This is bad.

For most of the state’s recent history these two legal frameworks have worked well together. If there is excess water or low demand, the two systems of water rights are compatible. The problem is when water supplies are most limited, during dry seasons or drought years, the water in the streams and rivers is almost exclusively baseflow.  So when the allocation systems are most critically needed, the chance for conflict between them is the greatest. Increasing demand due to population growth, or changes in rainfall patterns, could make the chance for conflict much, much greater. This could get ugly.

If the un-recognized interactions of these two forms of water resources outside of their allocation systems (water laws) is significant source of potential problems, which can limits their efficient management under the current Oklahoma system of laws, what should we do? Interestingly enough, we here in Ada have had a ringside seat to the state’s first attempt to recognize legally, the scientific reality of ground water/surface water interactions.  Some states have implemented what are called “conjunctive management” polices that attempt to capture the impacts of ground water-surface water interactions 

Oklahoma passed legislation in Senate Bill 288, which for the first time recognizes the impact of ground water-pumping on streams and rivers. The law is limited in scope; it only applies to the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer, and it does not use the term conjunctive management. The law and the developing associated regulations are controversial, and still subject to legal and legislative challenges.  

But it is a good first step in bringing the current surface water and ground laws into harmony with the science and each other. It is also very good for protecting South Central Oklahoma’s water resources.

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