Water history and facts trump rhetoric
BY LINDA LAMBERT & FORD DRUMMOND
Friday, March 30, 2012
3/30/12 at 4:22 AM
Despite the recent media blitzkrieg from the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations that calls into question the Oklahoma Water Resources Board's stewardship of the people's water resources, OWRB members, like most Oklahomans, are more interested in the "walk" versus the "talk."
Since its inception in 1957, the OWRB has been committed to one overriding goal: providing a reliable water supply for all Oklahomans, tribal members and non-tribal alike.
More than 50 years and multiple droughts later, no towns or industries face dire water shortages, and our water-based tourism and recreation is more vibrant and economically productive than ever before. Applying the wealth of technical information and well-vetted policy initiatives contained in our 2012 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan will ensure the same holds true for the next 50 years.
The tribes preach about the need for more sustainable water management based upon vague "essentials," but it is the OWRB that has practiced sound and effective management for decades, and it is the OWRB that continually evolves to meet the changing needs and priorities of those to whom it is accountable - the citizens of Oklahoma.
The tribes proclaim putting Oklahoma's needs first, but when Texas interests sued to force the out-of-state sale of southeastern Oklahoma water, it was the OWRB that successfully defended the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, preserving the state's ability to place the needs of its citizens above all others. And when the threat to water ownership and control comes from within our borders, as in the lawsuit filed last year by the tribes, you can bet that the OWRB will once again defend the water rights relied upon by our cities and towns, farmers and ranchers, industries and citizens.
In defending those rights, the OWRB is using the only congressionally recognized means to conclusively determine what rights the tribes might possess - a general stream adjudication. The tribes have spread propaganda that the state is trying to take permits away from our citizens. Those allegations are blatantly untrue. The fact of the matter is that when the OWRB grants permits to use water, it is acknowledging the permit holder's right to use the water. So the first action the OWRB will take in the adjudication will be to ask the court to confirm the permits already granted by the OWRB.
The tribes claim an urgent need to sue based on Oklahoma City's application for water from Sardis Lake. What the tribes omit is that Oklahoma City's application was filed almost five years ago and no action has been taken. That permit cannot be granted without public hearings in southeast Oklahoma and full compliance with an OWRB rule established in 1999 that requires preservation of more than enough water for local needs and establishment of a lake-level management plan to ensure that fishing and related recreational activities continue to sustain the area's economy.
There simply was no urgent need for the tribes to sue, and the OWRB remains hopeful that they will drop their lawsuit and engage in meaningful dialogue, rather than continued attacks upon the state. Putting our citizens first is the only true "essential," but progress will come only through less public posturing and more constructive action. When it comes to that, the OWRB's 50-year track record of putting Oklahoma first speaks for itself.
Linda Lambert is chairwoman of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and Ford Drummond is vice-chairman.
Ford Drummond and Linda Lambert: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board's 50-year track record of putting Oklahoma first speaks for itself.