New law protects Oklahoma waters

The Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) recently presented Oklahoma legislators Rep. Terry O’Donnell and Sen. Dan Newberry a resolution of appreciation for their help in passage of House Bill 2446, which made water a “compelling interest” in Oklahoma.

The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 17, specifically defined “protection of the waters of Oklahoma” as a “compelling State interest.”

“Protection of Oklahoma waters, especially those which serve as the water source for Tulsa and the surrounding area, is vital to the interest of our citizens,” said Lauren Brookey, a member of the TMUA board. “Rep. O’Donnell and Sen. Newberry showed great leadership in enacting this important legislation to protect our valuable water resources for the long term.”

TMUA, a public trust created by Tulsa city charter, serves as the chief provider of water for Tulsa and surrounding communities by maintaining Tulsa’s water and sanitary sewer systems.

According to legislators, water has been a particular topic of interest in the 2016 Oklahoma legislative session. In addition to the passage of HB 2446, voters in November will vote on State Question 777, a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that would grant citizens and lawful Oklahoma residents the right to engage in farming and ranching practices – rights that would be “forever granted” with the state and unable to be changed by the legislature without a compelling state interest.

“A lot of the work our TMUA board does is to develop a strong foundation for water resources 20-25 years from now,” said Brookey. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s important government policy work. Many people played a role in passage of this legislation, and it puts a stake in the ground to declare that water is important to Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma’s flood control network of 2,107 small watershed dams continues to function despite heavy rains and damage to many structures sustained during the spring of 2015.

Flood control dams prevented an estimated $33.9 and $15.7 million in flood damage in the months of April and May respectively according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Water Resources Office in Oklahoma. Prevented damage is an estimate of damage that would have occurred were the dams not in place. The calculation does not include potential loss of economic activity such as a result of closed businesses or washed out roads. It also does not place a dollar value on potential loss of life.

In total, flood control dams in Oklahoma have prevented an estimated $64.3 million in damage through May. On average, the dams prevent $91 million in damage annually and prevented $280 million in damage in 2015.

A number of flood control dams were damaged during the exceptional rain and ice of 2015. Through the USDA Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program and state matching funds provided by Oklahoma Emergency Management’s State Emergency Fund, repairs continue on schedule. The State Emergency Fund was created for State Disaster Declarations and matches federal funding on Presidential Disaster Declarations.

Thirty seven dams were approved for EWP repairs in 2015 at a cost of $3.2 million. EWP will provide $2.4 million and the State Emergency Fund will provide $800,000. A total of 14 repair projects have been completed with the remaining projects in the design or construction stages.