Amy Ford of Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer (CPASA) said Friday that residents outside this area who question her reasons for protecting the aquifer are wrong about what motivates her. Ford was the featured speaker at Ada Area Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon at Pontotoc Technology Center.

She said some people have gotten the notion she is an environmentalist who is against agriculture. “Protecting water from the Arbuckle-Simpson has become my passion, my life,” Ford said. “If and when you hear I’m an environmental extremist, the answer is no.” Ford said she and her husband own 400 acres on property whose southern boundary sits along the Blue River near Durant. “I own a pretty good sized herd of cattle. I am an ag-person,” she said.

 Water from Blue River, as well as that in Pennington Creek and other tributaries in southeast Oklahoma originate from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. Just after the turn of the 21st century, officials in Canadian County announced plans to construct a pipeline from the Arbuckle-Simpson to pump water to their residents.  

 CPASA quickly formed to fight the plan. In 2003, Oklahoma’s Legislature passed Senate Bill 288, which called for a five-year study designed to compute how much water could be taken from the aquifer without negatively impacting current residents who depend on it for their water needs.

Christina Phillips, CPASA’s attorney, explained that the Arbuckle-Simpson is the state’s only sole-source aquifer. “A sole-source aquifer is a legal designation that the Environmental Protection Agency gives to certain groundwater basins,” Phillips said. “A sole-source aquifer has to provide at least 50 percent of the drinking water relied upon by the overlying communities.”

Nine area communities — Ada, Roff, Sulphur, Davis, Tishomingo, Durant, Wynnewood, Mill Creek and Ardmore — all depend on the aquifer to supply their water needs.  

“There is no alternative source of water for us to rely upon,” Phillips said.

The study concluded the amount that could be safely mined without negatively impacting all other users is one-tenth of the previous legal limit, from two-acre feet to two-tenths acre feet per acre. This is known as the Maximum Annual Yield (MAY).

Ford said the new MAY impacts only commercial, not domestic users. “If you’re a rancher and you have a well for your household, for your garden, to fill up your troughs to water your cows and you don’t have to have a permit, you don’t have to have one now,” she said.

Opposition to the new limit was fierce and it went to court almost immediately. Phillips said Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation is the main opposition, but several other entities are also fighting it including Oklahoma Aggregates Association, which represents surface mines in Oklahoma. Oral arguments are expected to take place in September but Ford and Phillips expect the case to eventually be heard by Oklahoma’s Supreme Court.

Ford said her group is not necessarily waiting for the courts to decide before getting active.

“Oklahoma Water Resources Board has moved forward as if SB 288 is not in the courts,” she said. “They have issued permanent regular permits. We are moving forward as if there’s no court action.”