KENT WILKINS  assistant  chief for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board discusses the state water plan at the recnet Oklahoma Irrigation confrence in  Fort Cobb

KENT WILKINS, assistant chief for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, discusses the state water plan at the recnet Oklahoma Irrigation confrence in Fort Cobb.

OWRB sets lofty water conservation goal for 2060

Oklahoma's water conservation objective becomes more difficult with the current multi-year drought that some weather experts project could continue for several more years.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has set some lofty goals to meet by the year 2060. “We want to consume no more water in 2060 than we consume today,” said Kent Wilkins,  assistant  chief for OWRB.

Achieving that goal, Wilkins said during the Oklahoma Irrigation Conference in Fort Cobb, “will require conservation, re-utilization and recycling.” With an extreme conservation scenario, he added, the state could use less water in 2060 that it uses now.

Much of that water savings will come from agriculture. “Crop irrigation is the largest water use in Oklahoma,” he said. “Municipal, thermoelectric power generation, oil and gas and residential use complete the top five water utilization sectors.

The conservation objective becomes more difficult with the current multi-year drought that some weather experts project could continue for several more years.

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“In Oklahoma, we had about 15 years of above normal rainfall in the late 1980s and ‘90s,” Wilkins said. “For the last few years, we’ve had below normal rainfall. A little rainfall this year has helped out.”

Water plan

He said a 2012 comprehensive water plan lays out recommendations to help achieve the optimistic goal. The process will include looking at infrastructure financing ($300 million); conservation, reuse and recycling; monitoring water resources; evaluating supply reliability; looking at instream flows; identifying areas with excess or surplus water supplies; resolving state and tribal issues; and regional planning efforts.

“Local level decisions about water resources will be important,” he said. “That’s not done yet.”

He said OWRB efforts will identify “hot spots,” areas where water resources will not be adequate to meet demand. The  Oklahoma Panhandle and the Altus area are likely hot spots. Monitoring water quality will be another important aspect of the long-range water plan. Sampling, he added, needs to be updated “to establish water quality standards for the state.”

Improving irrigation efficiency, Wilkins said, will be a crucial part of achieving significant water conservation. “We have to manage water for the long term and maintain water resource viability for future generations. We can practice conservation measures and still be able to increse yields.”

Switching to new irrigation technology such as subsurface drip irrigtion will help achieve irrigation water conservation goals. An advisory council will make recommendations on how to reach the goal of no more water use in 2060 than is used in 2014.

Across the board, Wilkins said, water consumers will find ways to conserve. “We will identify innovative solutions to forecasted water shortages.” Part of the effort will include voluntary programs and policies as well as financial incentives and educational efforts.

 

OWRB recommendations

Wilkins mapped out OWRB concerns and recommendations that include:

  • Addressing Oklahoma’s more than $82 billion water and wastewater infrastructure needs expected by 2060;
  • OWRB’s Triple A grant and loan program will meet only 4 percent to 9 percent of this need;
  • Specifically address the needs of small- and medium-sized communities; and
  • A water infrastructure enhancement reserve fund.

Another goal is to identify as many as 23 sites for potential reservoirs.

Wilkins and Caddo County Cooperative Extension Educator David Nowlin said state property owners currently own the water underneath their property. “Water is part of our property rights,” Wilkins said. “But other water laws may be enacted to further protect water resources.”

Technology will play a crucial role in conservation efforts, Nowlin added, especially for farmers.

 

Tools such as Mesonet, soil moisture sensors, smart phones, more efficient pivot irrigation and other innovations to maintain yield goals will become even more important.

And water may become even more precious in the near future as demand and competition for the resource increases. Oklahoma landowners currently have the right to the water under the land they own. But Nowlin asks: “How will water rights change in the future?”

“We have to be willing to make tough choices to protect water for generations to come,” Wilkins said.

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