Water, water everywhere
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sep 30, 2007
Other projects on horizon
throughout the state
It's been said many times -- too many probably --
that water is the oil of the 21st century.
If that's so, then Oklahoma, once known as the oil
patch, could someday be known as America's water
We're not talking just about the Arkansas River development plan here, though obviously that is the first
thing that springs to mind.
Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and others, water development projects soon could be sprinkled throughout the state, vastly improving critically
needed infrastructure, expanding and improving water
supplies and irrigation sources, and opening the way
for major lakeside
could bring new life
to flagging communities.
The $23.2 billion
Development Act of
2007 has passed the
House and Senate
by large margins
but could face a presidential veto. The large approval
margins likely ensure an override, and therefore might
fend off a veto.
The cost of the massive bill has raised some eyebrows, but the fact that each and every listed project
must carry the name of a congressional sponsor helps
defend their inclusion.
The bill is what's known as an authorization bill,
which means in effect that listed projects are officially
in line for federal funding (assuming eventual approval). It's impossible to predict if all the projects will receive all the funding authorized. That's where negotiations come in -- and where public support matters.
The most publicized element to date, of course, is the
$50 million for Arkansas River development in Tulsa
County. The bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct such activities as ecosystem restoration, recreational uses and flood damage reduction.
The authorized corps activities are components of
the development plan that will go before Tulsa County
voters on Oct. 9. If voters approve that plan, and if Inhofe succeeds in obtaining federal funds for river development, then the federal money can be applied toward
the public portion of the project. Officials say the 0.4
percent sales tax could be terminated before the seven-year deadline if that occurs.
What's more, there is reason to believe that if Tulsa
County voters approve the $282 million sales-tax plan,
thereby teaming up with the charitable donors who
have pledged $117 million, there might be a better
chance of obtaining the federal money. Members of
Congress tend to pay closer attention if there's strong
public support for such a project, and if it's deemed a
high local priority.
In other words, we could move up in the federal-funding line if the local money is approved.
Fifty million dollars would go a long way toward
building the infrastructure needed to bring about the
envisioned development and amenities along the riverbanks.
But Tulsa's stretch of the Arkansas River is only one
of about a dozen water-development projects included
in the bill that could greatly benefit Oklahoma.
At least as important is a $30 million authorization for
completing the buyout of residents in the Tar Creek Superfund site in Ottawa County. While not technically a
water-development project, this authorization gives the
Environmental Protection Agency the authority and
flexibility to revisit remediation plans for the abandoned mining district and undertake relocation of the
Observers believe this element is critical to continuing the buyout program initiated at the state level by
Gov. Brad Henry. Once relocation is completed, that
devastated area could finally be on the path to restoration.
Also included is a lake advisory committee that
would give citizens more input and control over Lake
Eufaula operations, a measure that has been vigorously
sought by interested parties.
New language clearing the way for public-private development partnerships at Lake Texoma -- a major
goal of new U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin -- and at other corps
lakes in Oklahoma could mean significant economic
boosts for a number of Oklahoma communities. This
pilot effort also could serve as a model for future lake
development throughout the nation.
Clarifying language also would allow for improved
drinking water and irrigation supplies from the Red
River, where salt-removal projects have been undertaken. The bill insures that recreation, fishing and habitat
needs would not be impacted.
And, just as important to the communities in need of
them are the many small water and sewer infrastructure projects authorized in the bill. Amounts ranging
from $500,000 to $16 million will provide system improvements and upgrades for 19 communities.
And last but not least, $6.5 million was authorized for
the Oklahoma Statewide Comprehensive Water Plan, a
crucial document that will guide how Oklahoma's precious water resources are divided up in coming years.
Are these projects just pork, as some detractors suggest? Not if you live in a community that literally faced
the loss of its water supply during the recent drought.
Should these projects be locally funded? If that were
possible, maybe. But any local leader will testify that
mandate after mandate has drained local resources to
the point the money just isn't there.
A former Tulsa mayor, Inhofe is keenly aware of the
limited resources cities face, which no doubt is one reason he pushed this measure.
Inhofe's conservative credentials surely are as good
as anyone's, so the argument this bill is laden with unnecessary pork just doesn't hold water. (Sorry.)
That won't stop the charges of the "born-again conservatives," as he describes them, who won't support
these justifiable, much-needed infrastructure improvements. But we here in Tulsa, and Lawton, and Duncan,
and Waurika, and Wilburton, and Bethany, and Woodward, and Disney, and Durant (etc., etc.) know better.
Janet Pearson 581-8328