Sunday, September 25, 2011

OWRB presents recommendations to legislative study committee

On 9/21/2011, the OWRB presented its recommendations to the legislative study committee, regarding the 2012 Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan.  The recommendations can be found here.  These recommendations are the result of years of study, analysis, and inclusive meetings conducted by the OWRB and its partners.  While some of the recommendations appear to have been driven in particular by the OWRB (such as conjunctive use), other recommendations reflect practical and common-sense approaches.

The recommendations on the state-tribal water rights issue reflect a fairly mature approach compared to past attempts at the issue.  The past several comprehensive water plans have used platitudes as their recommendations on these issues: form study groups, get together, talk about it, but no deadlines or requirements.  This time, though, the recommendation goes at least half a step beyond this level by recommending the establishment of a formal consultation process.  It remains to be seen whether this formal consultation process will be worthwhile.

Two issues are noticeably lacking from the recommendations.  First, the recommendations fail to address the significant barriers to cooperation between potable water providers.  Wholesale water contracting between potable water providers is more difficult than ever, due to litigation regarding, among other things, rate-setting, down-flow infrastructure standards, and the right to contract (meaning whether a water provider has the right to choose whether to enter into a contract with another water provider).  The State would benefit from increased cooperation and interconnections between potable water providers.  But with the threat of litigation hanging over all such relationships, interconnections could be decreasing rather than increasing.

Second, the recommendations fail to address the need for nondiscriminatory, statewide standards for water infrastructure used for fire flow.  Currently, the standards are vague and discriminatory.  Landowners on the "urban fringe" are more likely to fall within this regulatory no man's land.  (This means that a residential subdivision, retail center, industrial facility, or even a hospital is less likely to be built in these areas -- regardless of any zoning requirements.)  The State would benefit from sensible, density-based fire-flow regulations applicable to all water providers.  But this issue was too much of a hot potato for the OCWP.