Last week’s unanimous decision by Oklahoma Water Resources Board members to limit the amount of water siphoned out of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer was a long time in coming.
In one respect, its history dates back just over a decade. In another respect, the need for it dates back over a century.
It was 2002 when Canadian County to Ada’s northwest announced it was planning to construct a $200 million, 88-mile-long pipeline to the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer as a way of ensuring its residents a clean supply of water. The Environmental Protection Agency had determined Canadian County’s current water source, the Garber-Wellington Aquifer, too high in arsenic.
This news sent many of southeast Oklahoma’s 39,000 residents who depend on the Arbuckle-Simpson scurrying to block Canadian County as well as anyone else with designs on our area’s water supply. The answer came in the form of Senate Bill 288, which called for a five-year study to determine how much water could be drawn out without putting the aquifer in jeopardy of being depleted. The study was completed in 2008. The official limit to the amount of water that could be mined from it was finally announced last Tuesday.
The need for clarification actually had its origin in the earliest days of statehood, when contradictory water law was first laid down in Oklahoma. Essentially, it said a landowner with water running through his property could take only as much as didn’t negatively affect his neighbor downstream. But a landowner mining water directly from the aquifer had no such limit. The problem was, in this area, the source for stream water was and still is the aquifer. The recent limit set by OWRB is an attempt to resolve this discrepancy and to keep outsiders, and for that matter us, from depleting it.
Few decisions make everyone happy. Ranchers who were intending to sell their water rights to Canadian County will not have the opportunity. In the end, all of us will be paying more for water. But this new limit is designed to ensure water remains plentiful for the foreseeable future. Without it, we cannot exist. This new limit is designed to ensure that we will still have it.