Oklahoma Water News

4th Quarter, 2019

Oklahoma Water Resources Board

Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan

Oklahoma statutes direct the OWRB to forecast long-term water needs through decennial updates to the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP) to provide local planners and lawmakers with the data critical for ensuring safe and reliable water for all Oklahomans. In addition to supply/demand studies across 82 basins, the 2012 OCWP Update employed an unprecedented multi-year citizen engagement effort to identify diverse issues and solutions. Eight priority policy recommendations emerged from 83 public meetings across the state resulting in over 2,300 public comments. During 2019, the agency remained committed to furthering implementation of these priority recommendations and began work on the 2025 update, meeting with stakeholders around the state to compile a list of today's most pressing water issues and develop potential strategies and solutions.

Water Rights Administration

The OWRB appropriates fresh water resources as directed by Oklahoma statutes through more than 14,800 active long-term permits for more than 6.89 million acre-feet per year. The OWRB's permitting staff issued 83 groundwater permits in 2019 totaling 26,440 acre-feet, and 47 stream water permits totaling 37,660 acre-feet, along with 1,215 provisional temporary permits totaling 51,100 acre-feet for oil and gas producers and others in need of a temporary source of water. To support water rights administration, the agency conducted surface water allocation modeling and availability analyses, coordinated statewide water use reporting, and responded to public complaints.

Total Permitted Water by Use in Oklahoma

Total Permitted Water by Use in Oklahoma

Hydrologic Investigations

Aquifer Studies

The OWRB conducts hydrologic investigations as directed by Oklahoma Statutes to determine the amount of fresh groundwater available for appropriation. A priority recommendation of the OCWP focused on addressing the backlog of the required Maximum Annual Yield (MAY) studies and overdue twenty-year updates of the state's groundwater basins. This work is now underway through eight active studies. The Elk City Sandstone, Gerty Sand, Cimarron Alluvium and Terrace, and the Ogallala Roger Mills are in review stages with publication anticipated within the upcoming year. The OWRB is actively collecting data on the Ada-Vamoosa, Red River Alluvium and Terrace, Blaine, and the Whitehorse minor aquifers. In addition, five contracts with the USGS to conduct investigations on the Roubidoux, Boone, Salt Fork of the Red River, Washita River Reach 3 & 4, and the Salt Fork of Arkansas River aquifers have been established. An investigation on the Washita River Reach 1 is currently in review through the USGS and the OWRB with an anticipated publication within the next year.

Aquifer Studies

The OWRB continues collaborative work with the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Foss Reservoir Master Conservancy District (MCD), and Fort Cobb MCD on the Upper Washita Basin Study, scheduled for completion in 2021. The OWRB is also collaborating with the USBR, Lugert-Altus Irrigation District (Lugert-Altus Reservoir), and Mountain Park MCD (Tom Steed Reservoir) on the Upper Red River Basin Study, scheduled for completion in 2020. Both studies aim to evaluate various water management options, assess current and future water supply capabilities of reservoirs, and evaluate alternatives to address water supply issues facing the study areas.

The OWRB met with the City of Langston and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in 2019 to present results of recently completed bathymetric studies to determine how the information could be used for water planning and permitting. Additional yield studies will be completed at Greenleaf Lake in 2020.

Water & Wastewater System Financing

Okmulgee Co RWD #5 Big Check

As the State's primary water and wastewater infrastructure financing agency, the OWRB has provided over $4.4 billion in financing to Oklahoma communities, rural water districts, schools, and other authorities at an estimated savings of $1.4 billion over conventional bond financing.

The success of the program is due to the continued achievement of AAA bond ratings, an extremely strong loss coverage score, management and oversight of the program, and a long history of borrower repayment.


The programs protect the health and safety of Oklahomans by providing funding to meet the critical need for safe drinking water supplies and adequate wastewater treatment.

In 2019, the OWRB approved 30 loans and 15 grants totaling $352 million to fund public water/wastewater infrastructure improvements with an estimated savings of $105.8 million as compared to traditional financing.

Cumulative Investments in OWRB Infrastructure Financing

Cumulative Investments in OWRB Infrastructure Financing Chart

Cumulative investments in OWRB infrastructure financing. Since 1984, the OWRB has leveraged $115 million in state funds and $709 million in federal funds with $2.23 billion in bonds to expand available financing for infrastructure projects in Oklahoma communities.

In cooperation with the Oklahoma Rural Water Association (ORWA), the OWRB provided 64 training sessions and 103 technical assistance visits to communities during 2019. Additionally, through partnerships with the ORWA and Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the OWRB funded nearly 1600 hours of long range sustainability planning and technical assistance associated with that planning.

Dam Safety

Dam Safety Fieldwork

The OWRB ensures the safety of more than 4,700 dams across the state as directed by the Oklahoma Dam Safety Act. Additionally, OWRB staff maintain Oklahoma's portion of the National Inventory of Dams, oversee approval for construction or modification of structures, coordinate breach inundation mapping, inspect low hazard-potential dams, and provide public outreach and training.

In 2019, the OWRB approved 22 applications to construct, repair, or modify dams. The OWRB Dam Safety Program hosted a slope stability workshop in July, which was attended by forty four engineers representing private firms, universities, local, state and federal government agencies. OWRB staff provided dam inspection reports to 17 dam owners for 22 dams.

Dams under OWRB's jurisdiction

NRCS, State, and privately owned dams under the jurisdiction of the OWRB's Dam Safety program.

Floodplain Management

Floodplain Class

The OWRB acts as the State Floodplain Board and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) coordinating agency as directed by the Oklahoma Floodplain Management Act. The OWRB assists communities in reducing costly flooding risks to life and property by developing flood risk products such as Flood Insurance Rate Maps, and with an education and outreach program which provides information on the NFIP and conducts floodplain management training workshops for local floodplain administrators.

The OWRB worked closely with communities throughout the state in 2019 to identify flood risks and update flood maps through FEMA's Cooperating Technical Partners (CTP) program. Currently six studies involving eight watersheds and 45 miles of stream channel are underway. Through the Community Assistance Program, OWRB staff conducted 15 new Community Assistance Visits (CAVs), 50 Community Assistance Contacts, and provided over 200 general technical assistance requests.

Well Driller & Pump Installer Licensing

OGWA Workshop

The OWRB protects Oklahoma's groundwater from contamination by ensuring the integrity of water well construction through the licensing of well drillers and pump installers as directed by Oklahoma Statutes. Currently there are 376 active well drillers and pump installers licensed by the OWRB. The OWRB frequently assists drillers with required well log reporting; more than 198,500 well logs are available to the public online.

In 2019, the OWRB cooperated with the Oklahoma Ground Water Association to conduct 5 continuing education training sessions for drillers to meet licensing requirements. The OWRB continues to work with the Well Driller Advisory Council and stakeholders to develop, update, and advance water well drilling rules.

Water Quality Standards, Monitoring, & Lake Restoration

Water Monitoring Fieldwork

The OWRB is designated by Oklahoma statute as the agency responsible for promulgating Oklahoma’s Water Quality Standards (WQS), which have been developed in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act. In 2019, the OWRB continued assisting in the implementation of the WQS in other state agencies, administering the statewide beneficial use monitoring program (BUMP), and administering the statewide program for assessing, monitoring, studying, and restoring Oklahoma lakes. During the year, the OWRB continued monitoring at 40 lakes, 84 stream sites, and more than 1,000 groundwater wells across the state. Additional monitoring projects included bathymetric mapping of lakes across the state and real-time monitoring in the Grand/Neosho River Watershed. The OWRB continued its partnership with the USGS to manage Oklahoma's Cooperative Stream Gaging program; these data are used to meet compliance with four federal interstate stream compact agreements and to guide the management of local and regional public water suppliers, including flood and drought planning, early warnings, and emergency operations.

Water Resource Mapping

The OWRB uses standard and customized GIS applications to create, analyze, and display water-related spatial data and make it available to the public. In 2019, OWRB GIS staff developed online dashboards for permit applications and Financial Assistance loans and grants. In addition to maps, the dashboards include tables, charts and graphs to make it easier to understand the data. The OWRB continued to map water, wastewater, stormwater, and water reuse infrastructure for small public water and wastewater systems, making the data available to the systems on secure map viewers.

Interstate Stream Compact Commissions

Interstate Stream Compacts

The OWRB continued to represent Oklahoma's interests on four separate interstate stream compact commissions regarding all the surface waters that flow into or out of the state. The compacts are written agreements among or between Oklahoma's neighboring states that have been approved by the US Congress, enacted in Federal statutes, and enacted in the statutes of each state.

Document Imaging

Nearly 100% of agency documents have been digitized and stored in an electronic filing system, improving staff productivity by streamlining workflows, and saving money by minimizing equipment needs and office space requirements.

Permitting and Licensing Applications

An online application system allows the OWRB to expedite temporary water use permits for energy production and other short-term uses. Web-based applications are under development that will allow well drillers and pump installers to apply for or renew their licenses and water rights holders to file annual water use reports.

Infrastructure Solutions and Financing Software

The Oklahoma Advantages Assessment and Scoring for Infrastructure Solutions (OASIS) tool helps municipalities plan for future needs and communicate infrastructure investment opportunities to constituents and decision-makers. Infrastructure Financing Software (IFS) tracks the agency's complex funding system, including more than $4.4 billion in approved projects to date.

GIS-Based Data Collection and Customized Map Viewers

OWRB staff perform investigations more efficiently and accurately with GIS-based applications and tools. Online mapping tools provide customers with mobile-friendly map viewers and downloadable data.

Customer Service and Public Outreach

The OWRB conducts numerous focus groups and public meetings through partnerships with public and private interest groups with the goal of improving customer service.

Savings Through Web-Based Training

The OWRB saves money and travel expenses by utilizing free and low-cost online training opportunities. The OWRB now hosts online webinars to educate the public on specific programs, saving additional money on training space rental fees.

Leveraging Funds

The OWRB leverages federal and local funding partnerships for state programs to continue implementation of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan recommendations. Funding partners include the USEPA, USGS, USDA NRCS, USBR, USACE, FEMA, Groundwater Protection Council, ODEQ, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Grand River Dam Authority, multiple Tribal partners, and many others.

Victor Ranch

The Victor Ranch in Ottawa County is consistently utilized by community and statewide conservation professionals to demonstrate the positive impacts that soil and water conservation can have on an agricultural operation. The GRDA, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Ottawa County Conservation District, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Oklahoma Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society have all used Victor Ranch as a training site.

Victor Ranch

The Victors' many projects include incorporating cover crops to help reduce runoff of sediment and nutrients with the long term expected benefits of reduced need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally the Ranch has shifted watering systems from utilizing Little Horse Creek to the installation of fifteen watering tanks. This practice increases infiltration rates, which restores hydrology and reduces the potential for flooding in the basin, while at the same time reducing runoff of nutrients, bacteria, and sediment to Grand Lake. Storing excess rainfall in the soil column also helps maintain vegetation and stream flow during drier periods.

The Victors are in the process of completing a thirty year easement with the GRDA to set aside 178 acres that are part of the Little Horse Creek Watershed, where many of Grand Lake's blue-green algae blooms have appeared to originate. This will be critically important for reducing nutrient pollution to the lake. The Victors' willingness to experiment with new ideas, demonstrate new practices, and advocate for more sustainable management are critical to protecting fresh water resources.

At an early age, Mr. Grant was taught about the importance of being a good steward of the land and water. His grandfather showed him an eroding field with muddy water running off the land, and then showed him the clear water running off a field protected by grass. This was the start of his conservation training, which has been passed on from generation to generation.

Jerod McDaniel

Jerod McDaniel farms in Texas County. Jerod has studied the effects of low population corn production on his farm for the last four years, converting his corn plant populations from the industry standard to a "flex" corn hybrid. His goal was to obtain a greater yield of grain with fewer plants.

The hybrid yields a bigger ear of corn per plant, which utilizes less water overall for biomass creation and maintenance. Jerod and other participating area growers have been able to show efficiencies of 13 bushels of yield per 1,000 seeds planted, compared with an industry standard of 7-8 bushels of yield per 1,000 seeds planted.

Jerod McDaniel

By leveraging the untapped efficiencies of the flex hybrid, Jerod's water usage has remained steady or even declined, and he has been able to produce 25-30% more corn. Jerod believes that if more panhandle corn farmers grew the flex hybrid, the viability of the Ogallala aquifer could be extended.

Jerod is interested in developing even more sustainable water saving ideas for the future, and has been able to highlight his experiences to a broader audience using social media. Through his podcast called "Ag Uncensored" and his Twitter feed, Jerod has crowd-tested his low-population flex corn experience and spread his water saving messages to interested followers around the world. From these conversations, many new ideas and experiences are being shared, which could result in fresh water savings throughout and beyond the Oklahoma Panhandle today and well into the future.

Creek County Rural Water District #2

Creek County Rural Water District #2 is a small water system near Jenks that serves around 5,200 connections. In October of 2018, the system contacted the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to have a water loss audit conducted. The audit indicated an average 16.8% loss with a yearly loss of almost 110 million gallons, valued at nearly $195,000!

To address the leaks, the system met with the Rural Water Association for technical assistance and training focused on leak detection. Since then, the system has taken an extremely proactive approach to reducing water loss, utilizing multiple tools and methods simultaneously. They have coupled active leak detection with GIS mapping software, which tracks leakage and infrastructure data. They have installed a data logger system with telemetry that provides precise information on distribution system performance and leakage location to the system office and have invested in an advanced ground microphone to locate leaks in the field.

Creek County Rural Water District #2

Combining telemetry, remote sensing, and "boots-on-the-ground" leak detection has proven to be a potent combination for reducing water loss--15 major leaks have been pinpointed and repaired so far, with plans made to address the remaining 10. The latest water loss audit showed the system loss had been reduced to around 5.7%, meaning that 25 million gallons of treated, potable water had been saved in five months' time at a cost savings of $170,000.

According to their partners at the ODEQ, the project's success was primarily due to the staff of the system and their positive attitudes toward addressing loss. Today they regularly conduct their own water loss audits and have a designated staff member for locating and repairing leaks. The system is a prime example of what can be accomplished in a short amount of time through cooperation and collaborative partnerships. The ODEQ and Rural Water Association are to be commended as well for their highly effective water loss audit, leak detection and remediation programs that give systems the training and tools to save millions of gallons of fresh water each year for Oklahoma.

City of Edmond

The City of Edmond's Coffee Creek Water Resource Recovery Facility Administration and Laboratory Building was designed to promote conservation and reuse of water while providing a resource to the community for education. Multiple educational aspects have been incorporated into the design of the innovative 23,000 square foot building to ensure that customers and the general public understand the function, purpose, and importance of the treatment plant, as well as the importance of water conservation and protecting an urban forest and major watershed.

City of Edmond

The building has a green roof, native and adapted plantings, a high efficiency irrigation system utilizing harvested water from a cistern, water efficient plumbing fixtures, LED lighting and dark sky compliant light fixtures, EV charging stations, geothermal ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic panels, and super insulated walls and roof, to name a few of its many impressive features.

By utilizing the rainwater harvesting system, drip irrigation, and natural xeriscaping, the City anticipates saving approximately 47,000 gallons of potable water per year when compared to a traditional spray irrigation design with fescue or Bermuda grass landscaping. The City's ultimate goal was to maximize water reuse to offset potable water demands and help "drought proof" the City's overall water supply.

The facility is available for tours for community organizations and schools. Future plans to enhance the experience include informational videos, an interactive 3D model, and possibly even virtual reality.

The OWRB would like to congratulate all the winners and thank all who participated in this year's Award ceremony.

Tom Buchanan

Tom Buchanan

Tom Buchanan has been a farmer in Jackson County for more than 35 years. He served on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board from 2011-2018, representing irrigation water interests, and served as President of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau from 2013-2017.

Mr. Buchanan has been the general manager of the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District since 2004. The District consists of 47,000 acres with 30 miles of main canals and an additional 300 miles of smaller laterals that connect with each farm. During his tenure, the District survived an historic four-year drought with minimal financial losses.

Mr. Buchanan's leadership has allowed the District to realize a 30% water savings over the years. He supervised the installation and implementation of recovery pits for water reuse as well as the lining of ditches. The District has implemented a number of other technology improvements to minimize water waste, including subsurface drip irrigation, automation of canals, and real time measurements to control water flow. The district is currently pursuing a study on a desalination process to have the capability to increase storage by adding another lake.

Over the years, Mr. Buchanan has worked tirelessly as an advocate for the district with state and federal agencies and policymakers. His service has included expert testimony before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, putting the District on the map as a national leader in irrigation system management.

Ann Keeley

Ann Keeley

Dr. Ann Keeley has worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency at its Robert S. Kerr Research Center in Ada since 1998 and was recently named Director of the Groundwater Characterization and Remediation Division. As a research microbiologist, her groundbreaking scientific work with the agency has included extensive research into groundwater contamination and remediation, and her numerous publications and scientific findings are well-respected among water scientists around the world.

Dr. Keeley has provided technical assistance to the EPA's regional offices, headquarters, and many others on the restoration of groundwater and ecosystems at scores of Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sites. Today, her Division leads the nation as the EPA's center of expertise for groundwater remediation research.

Along with her scientific contributions, her efforts to promote cooperative research between the EPA and Chickasaw Nation, State of Oklahoma, and East Central University, have been unsurpassed, providing multiple opportunities for high-paying jobs, industry growth, and economic development in the region.

Dr. Keely was a founding member of the Ada Water Resources Board in 1999 and currently serves as a member of the Oka Institute's Advisory Council and research subcommittee. She has dedicated her career to the advancement of scientific solutions that will allow us to be the best possible stewards of our water resources both today and well into the future.

Arnold Miller

Arnold Miller

Arnold Miller provided leadership for the Weatherford Water Department for 48 years. His service as Water and Wastewater Superintendent, which began in 1967, was instrumental to the tremendous growth and economic development of the City and Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Mr. Miller worked passionately to ensure adequate upgrades to water infrastructure to accommodate residential and industrial growth while operating the department in a conservative financial manner. He is said to have an institutional memory of virtually every water and sewer line in the city.

Mr. Miller is known by all for going above and beyond to ensure the safety and integrity of the City's water supply. He embodies all the attributes of a true public servant, and he has been recognized by multiple organizations for his leadership in water and sewer system planning and management, as well as for his efforts to improve the health and well-being of his employees and the citizens of Weatherford.

Mr. Miller served on the Oklahoma Water and Pollution Control Association as president in 1978 and 2008, receiving the President's Award for Outstanding Service in 2005. He served on the Oklahoma State Department of Health Water and Wastewater Works Advisory Council for seven years. He has been granted Life Time Member status in the American Water Works Association.

Mr. Miller retired in 2008, but continues to be engaged in managing, protecting, and conserving Oklahoma's water resources through consulting work.

FA Loans—393 totaling $1,244,510,000

The OWRB's Financial Assistance Program (FAP), created by the State Legislature in 1979, provides loans for water and wastewater system improvements in Oklahoma. The tremendous popularity of the bond loan program is due, in part, to extended payoff periods of up to 30 years at very competitive interest rates.

CWSRF Loans—359 totaling $1,759,285,441

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) loan program was created in 1988 to provide a renewable financing source for communities to use for their wastewater infrastructure needs. The CWSRF program is Oklahoma's largest self-supporting wastewater financing effort, providing low-interest loans to communities in need.

DWSRF Loans—215 totaling $1,368,075,183

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) loan program is an initiative of the OWRB and ODEQ to assist municipalities and rural water districts in the construction and improvement of drinking water systems. These projects are often mandated for communities to obtain compliance with increasingly stringent federal standards related to the treatment of drinking water.

REAP Grants—697 totaling $62,020,690

The Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) Program was created by the State Legislature in 1996. REAP grants, used for water/wastewater system improvements, primarily target rural communities with populations of 7,000 or less, but priority is afforded to those with fewer than 1,750 inhabitants.

Drought Response Program Grants—6 totaling $418,848

Through the OWRB's Drought Response Program, funding is available for communities in most dire need during state drought emergencies declared by the Governor. A maximum of $300,000 is diverted from existing OWRB Emergency Grant proceeds to fund the Program.

Emergency Grants—588 totaling $35,073,082

Emergency grants, limited to $100,000, are awarded to correct situations constituting a threat to life, health, or property and are an indispensable component of the agency's financial assistance strategy.

Water for 2060 Grants—4 totaling $1,500,000

Through the Water for 2060 Grant Program, funding was available in 2015 for municipalities, counties, water/sewer districts and other public entities for projects that highlight the responsible use of water.

Emergency Drought Relief Grants—4 totaling $1,125,000

Through the Emergency Drought Relief Grant Program, funding was provided in 2013 by the Legislature via the Emergency Drought Relief Commission to address severe drought issues in specific Oklahoma counties.

FA Loans & Grants Map

Total Loans/Grants Approved: 2,266 totaling $4,472,008,244
Estimated Savings: $1,491,808,903

Applicants eligible for water/wastewater project financial assistance vary according to the specific program's purpose and requirements, but include towns and other municipalities with proper legal authority, various districts established under Title 82 of Oklahoma Statutes (rural water, master/water conservancy, rural sewage, and irrigation districts), counties, public works authorities, and/or school districts. Applications for agency financial assistance programs are evaluated individually by agency staff. Those meeting specific program requirements are recommended by staff for approval at monthly meetings of the nine-member Water Board. For more information, call (405) 530-8800 or go to www.owrb.ok.gov/financing.