Oral arguments appealing the decision made by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to dramatically reduce the amount of groundwater that can be pumped from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer are scheduled to be heard next week in an Oklahoma City courtroom.
A petition calling for a judicial review of the OWRB’s order was filed shortly after the board issued a final determination regarding the aquifer’s Maximum Annual Yield in 2013.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, in the courtroom of Judge Barbara G. Swinton, Room 712, at the Oklahoma County District Courthouse.
Area springs and streams depend heavily on the aquifer for stream flow.
Petitioners listed in the brief appealing the decision are the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation, Pontotoc County Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, Environmental Federation of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Oklahoma Aggregates Association, TXI and the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer Protection Federation of Oklahoma, Inc.
In addition to the OWRB being named as a respondent, the group Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer (CPASA) has filed a motion to intervene in the case.
“While participants in the hearing will be limited to legal counsel, we feel it’s very important that all of us who have spent the past decade-plus fighting for the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer and its sustainable flows be present in the courtroom to reaffirm our support of the OWRB’s order,” Amy Ford, CPASA president, said.
In determining the amount of water that can be pumped from the aquifer basin, the OWRB decreased the total from 2 acre-foot per acre of land to .20 acre-foot of water per acre per year—a 90 percent reduction.
The decision came following years of scientific studies, court battles, and political wrangling on how best to implement Senate Bill 288—the law that connected ground and surface water for the first time in Oklahoma and protects springs and streams in south central Oklahoma.
The order issued in October, 2013 finalized the maximum annual yield of the aquifer and the equal proportionate share allotted to an acre of land.
The determination of the maximum annual yield was set at 78,404 acre-feet.
The amount of water allocated per acre of land—also known as the equal proportionate share—shrunk from 651,702 gallons of water to 65,170.20 gallons—10 times less than that previously allowed, to protect springs and streams.
At .20 per acre-feet of water, reductions in stream and spring flow are calculated at approximately 25 percent.
The order does not affect wells used for domestic purposes.
In rendering its decision, the OWRB granted a five-year period of implementation for the reduced allocation from the effective date of the final order issued, “unless an extension of time is granted for good cause shown.”
In Oklahoma, the amount of groundwater available for pumping is granted to landowners through “temporary permits” prior to the completion of a hydrological survey and determination of the maximum annual yield of groundwater from the basin or sub-basin from which the groundwater will be withdrawn.
According to state law, “temporary permits” are just that—temporary in nature, i.e. no permanent right to the allocation amount is provided, although the law provides for an “automatic” annual revalidation process.
Once an aquifer’s maximum annual yield is determined and an equal proportionate share, existing permits are converted from temporary to regular permits, as well as any new permits granted.
Efforts to pass the law protecting the aquifer were first triggered in 2002 when a group of municipalities in central Oklahoma announced plans to pump billions of gallons of groundwater annually from this area to central Oklahoma to increase their water sources.
A grassroots effort to stop the water transfer swept across counties in south central Oklahoma that would be impacted, and the group that would eventually become CPASA was formed.
Working through area legislators, CPASA pushed for legislation to be written calling for a study to determine how much groundwater could be pumped from the aquifer without reducing the natural flow of springs or streams in the aquifer basin.
The new legislation known as Senate Bill 288 was signed into law by Governor Brad Henry in 2003.
Once the law was passed, a five-year study of the aquifer overseen by the OWRB was implemented at a cost of $4.2 million.
The study considered the aquifer’s characteristics, well yields, water quality, storage capacity, recharge rates, instream flow assessments, and the impact upon four native fish species, among other concerns.
It also showed a direct correlation between pumping of groundwater and reductions in spring and stream flows emanating from the aquifer.
“We’re getting closer to the finish line that will hopefully allow us not to feel like we’re having to fight at every turn against outside interests that clearly do not understand our overall objective of the long-term sustainable management of our water,” Ford said about the progress that has been made.
From Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson.