Should Legislators Sell Water to Save Water in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma may soon upgrade its dated water infrastructure – with a hefty price tag.

A legislative panel studying nationwide water systems at the state level, recommended the Sooner Sate invest $82 billion over the next 50 years for infrastructure improvements to both drinking and wastewater systems. That averages out to be roughly $2 billion a year. The much needed improvements will aide the state in retaining water for residents and rural usage. In times of extreme drought – like the one experienced during the scorching 2011 summer – water conservation is crucial. Along with infrastructure costs another $3.75 million a year would be added on to the price tag for additional  recommended repairs.

“Oklahoma has some pretty dramatic aging infrastructure,” said Joe Freeman, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s chief of financial assistance.

The water issues continue in Oklahoma with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) insisting that water infrastructure is in need of a serious overhaul. However, OWRB Executive Director J.D. Strong stated that by leveraging bonds for water infrastructure improvements, the price tag would fall below $82 billion. Strong also pointed out that the OWRB has financed $2.6 billion in water-related projects over the past 25 years with only $20 million from the state level. The money put into past projects is dramatically lower than the $82 billion suggested, but how will the state generate this money?

Oklahoma water leaders are considering various options to not lose the state’s water supply – even mandates ordering the state to sell off water. Sell water to save water is the question. This proposition would make the state money to repair faulty infrastructure, but lose some of the state’s precious natural resources in the process.

In 2011, Oklahoma experienced one of the driest summers since 1921; along with much of the Central United States, no thanks to global warming and wildfire threats. The state can’t afford to hustle water to other parts of the nation when it’s already experiencing a water shortage. The potential water buyers would be states experiencing extreme drought, in the same classification as Oklahoma. 

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) stated that global warming has caused more than 1,100 counties in the lower 48 states at higher risk of water shortages by mid-century and more than 400 at extremely high risk. The study pointed out 14 states – Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas – face an extreme or high risk to water sustainability and will likely see limitations on water availability as demand exceeds supply by 2050. 

Apparently, Oklahoma isn’t the only state that has to face the water shortage reality. Nonetheless, Oklahoma is now stuck in a lose, lose situation with few options. So, should the state implement mandates to sell water to pay for infrastructure repairs that could save water? You decide.

Posted by Christina Miralla on Oct 19, 2011

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