OKLAHOMA CITY – Brent Kisling is still preparing for a drought, despite the record flooding in May.
The chairman of the Northwest Water Action Team said he urged state leaders last week to study the region’s aquifer as his committee prepares its long-term water supply plan. Oklahoma Energy and Environment Secretary Michael Teague said all water managers in the state should follow Kisling’s resource planning approach.

Kisling, who is also executive director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance, said lack of water and workers limits growth there. He spearheaded the northwest region’s water action plan, in which municipalities, rural water districts and industry representatives studied long-term needs.
However, they also looked at supply and found one commonality in Oklahoma’s last century of climate and weather data. One flooded year occurred in the middle of several of Oklahoma’s 10-year droughts.

“Any day it is not raining, we believe it is the beginning of the next drought, and we need to be prepared for it,” he said.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board Executive Director J.D. Strong said Kisling’s group is preaching the right message. The floods in May and early June helped fill reservoirs, farm ponds and creeks across the state. Only Cimarron and Texas counties are in the least severe drought stage, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data. Yet Oklahoma water managers and businesses should continue to consider history, Strong said.

“It doesn’t mean we should slack off on our conservation efforts,” he said. “We need to make sure we continue drought-proofing Oklahoma.”

Long-term water supply plans are important, but water managers must take the next step to act on short- and long-term objectives, Strong said. Master conservancy district managers in the communities of Waurika and Foss are examining nonpotable wastewater reuse as an option to reduce demand for surface water, he said.

Teague agreed that reducing demand for fresh water and investing in water reuse infrastructure are critical for Western states. He attended the Western Governors’ Association’s drought forum in June. The organization identified infrastructure investments and demand reduction as two of seven best practices for Western states coping with drought, he said.
“Unless we work on the demand side and invest now, Oklahomans will not be ready for the next drought,” Teague said.

Reducing freshwater demand is the central issue in the state’s Water for 2060 Act requirements. The 2012 law requires each region to develop a plan to use no more water in 2060 than was used in 2012. Strong said the advisory council will complete in November a report with recommendations for water conservation and demand reduction incentives.

Kisling’s Northwest Oklahoma Water Action plan meets his region’s Water for 2060 Act requirements. His team will address improving existing water infrastructure first. Aging pipeline systems in the area lose about 25 percent of total supply, he said.

Another critical measure is to establish a tiered pricing system, in which increased water use is more expensive. If the region’s municipalities and rural water districts have the same escalated price structure, it removes the political pressure to keep rates low, he said.

“We believe whether it is raining or not, we need to be planning for drought to properly manage this very valuable resource we’ve got,” Kisling said.