The Duncan Banner

March 14, 2014

Water crisis has silver lining

Steve Olafson
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — There’s a silver lining to the drought in Duncan and Stephens County.

Things here are so serious, the state’s water agency could pick the area as a testing ground to determine the best ways to manage the state’s declining water supply.

Representatives from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board provided an overview of the problem on Thursday night and then listened to roomful of about 60 people offer their ideas and observations.

The ideas ranged far and wide.

They included eradicating red cedar trees because they suck up so much water, prohibiting people from filling up their swimming pools and capturing runaway floodwaters in canyons.

The goal, as ordered by the Legislature in the Water for 2060 Act, is for Oklahoma to consume no more fresh water in 2060 than is used today.

Before the water agency files a report next year on how that goal can be reached, they’re looking for ideas.

Conservation, education and infrastructure improvements via state financial assistance are believed to hold the keys to the state’s water future, according to state officials.

More rain, of course, would be wonderful.

Julie Cunningham, chief of the water planning and management division for the water board, said in an interview with The Banner before the public forum that enhanced cooperation among local jurisdictions could help the cause.

More than 700 water systems in the state each serve populations of less than 1,000, she said.

Duncan City Manager Jim Frieda said after the forum he was encouraged by the receptive comments people had regarding increased cooperation among water jurisdictions.

“That’s what we need,” he said.

Eddie Sutton, a rancher who heads the Farm Bureau in Stephens County, called the water agency’s public forum a “wake-up call.”

“We’re going to have to conserve our water,” said Sutton, who operates a cattle ranch in Loco.

 The water agency officials held previous public forums in Goodwell in the Oklahoma Panhandle and at Quartz Mountain, north of Altus, which have been hard hit by the drought.

The drought that now affects much of western and southern Oklahoma began in October 2010. Before that,  the state received above-average rainfall the previous 30 years, say state water officials.

“It comes and goes, but it can hang on for years at a time, so we need to be prepared for that,” water agency consultant John P. Rehring said of the state’s cyclical drought history.

Duncan city officials say they want to begin a year-long project to replenish the city’s water reserves with a new revenue stream of tax money the  Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation has agreed to share.

Moving forward with the project hinges on voter approval to extend the half-cent  sales tax that was first enacted in 1994.

That question will be decided by Duncan voters on April 1.