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Oklahoma lawmakers discuss aquifer management solutions

 Many Oklahoma irrigators rely on groundwater.

Joel Dunn


Many Oklahoma irrigators rely on groundwater.

Oklahoma lawmakers met this week to discuss groundwater levels, which are declining in many parts of the state, and explore possible solutions.

Rep. Carl Newton, a Republican from Northwestern Oklahoma, said he called for the interim study because Oklahomans need to be better stewards of the state’s water.

“If we don't have good drinking water, we will not have good life over here,” Newton said. “We need to make sure that we are protecting it and watching over it the best we can.”

Among the experts who spoke to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee was Todd Halihan, a geology professor at Oklahoma State University. Halihan presented on the feasibility of recharging Oklahoma’s aquifers by injecting water back into them. Aquifer recharge would protect water stores from evaporation, especially during drought, but it would require regulation and technical care.

“We have to have the tech folks working with you guys,” Halihan said to the gathered lawmakers. “Getting all the regulatory hurdles so that if somebody calls up and says, ‘I want to put my water in the ground,’ it's not, ‘Well, that's an interesting idea.’ It's, ‘Hey, here's what you’ve got to do. We're going to have to do this paperwork and do these tests and and go.’”

He said aquifer recharge has seen success in places like Orange County, California, where groundwater levels have stabilized.

Other experts presented groundwater metering, smart irrigation and voluntary conservation programs as possible solutions.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board Director Julie Cunningham said Oklahomans have expressed more interest in monitoring private groundwater use, which she said comes as a surprise.

“We want to respect private landowners’ property rights,” Cunningham said. “I think we're hearing that there's a lot of interest in really, you know, making sure that folks are using water appropriately so they’re not just destroying these aquifers.”

The information and recommendations presented at the interim study may be used to inform future legislation.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Copyright 2023 KGOU. To see more, visit KGOU.

Graycen Wheeler