- Ada, Oklahoma

October 30, 2013

Water rights important to Ada

Joe Wilson Guest Columnist

Ada —

There was the big story, right above the fold on the front page of the Friday, Oct. 25, issue of The Ada News. State board establishes maximum annual yield for aquifer. This is important for Ada. 

Many of the cities in the United States that have enjoyed sustained growth and economic development have done so because the city had the vision to develop water resources for the long term. It is all about the water.  New York City and its suburbs are only possible because NYC gained access to water in the Adirondack Mountains and built a pipeline to bring the water down hundreds of miles to the city. Los Angeles is only possible because the city built a pipeline from the Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Closer to home, Oklahoma City is possible because the city secured rights to water in Canton Lake and Atoka Lake. Ever looked north from Mercy Hospital and noticed the three tanks in a row on the horizon?  Those are equilibration tanks for a pipeline that brings water from Atoka Lake to OKC. Looking forward to its water needs, OKC recently paid the overdue bill to the Corps of Engineers for Sardis Lake, and by doing that secured access to Sardis Lake as a water supply. 

Ada doesn’t have a lake. We get our water from Byrd’s Mill Spring, which flows from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. In times of extended drought, the spring does not produce enough water and Ada must supplement the spring by pumping wells in the Arbuckle-Simpson.  In Oklahoma, a city or a business needs a permit to pump large amounts of ground water. The permit provides a right to pump the water based on the amount of land that is owned. As is the case with mineral rights, these water rights can be sold separate from the surface rights to the land. 

Most permits allow a landowner to pump a volume of water each year that would flood their land to a depth of two feet. If they owned an acre of land, they could pump two acre-feet each year.  

Here is the reason that the new limit that was set by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is such big news. The new limit is only 2.4 inches of water per acre each year, not 24 inches. The limit is good news and bad news for Ada. The good news is that the limit will preserve the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer from over pumping. It will always be there for us.  The bad news is that Ada does not own enough water rights. The water rights we have right now are not adequate to meet our future needs. 

Our city council saw this coming. For the past several years they have been buying water rights from local landowners. This process needs to continue at a measured and systematic pace. The time to buy the water rights is now when our supply of water is adequate. 

It will be foolish to wait until we are in a crisis. The next time you see any of our city council, remind them to buy water rights.

John Wilson is a research microbiologist. He has worked at the R.S. Kerr Environmental Research Center since 1978.