The Woodward News

February 2, 2014

Action team forming to put focus on water issues

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Water. It's what's for dinner - if we treat it right.

According to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the water level in Western Oklahoma's largest aquifer, the Ogallala, has decreased rapidly, beginning in 1946 when crop irrigation and other industrial use began to increase.

By 1998, levels of the Ogallala had declined by more than 100 feet in local areas of Texas County and 50 feet in Cimarron County, said OWRB spokeswoman, Darla Whitley.

But, If you want to see a bunch of red, faces and angry exchanges, just begin a conversation in any local coffee shop about even the idea of new governmental water regulations, which could be coming down the pike.

That is why one brand new organization based in Enid wants local water users to become part of the Northwest Oklahoma Water Action Team, said organization spokesman, Brent Kisling.

This organization seeks to include all voices of Panhandle and Northwest Oklahoma water users, such as farm and ranch producers, municipal leaders, oil and gas leaders, environmentalists and even individuals in creating a plan to address worrisome trends that point to a looming water crisis.

"In Northwest Oklahoma hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent studying our water assets," Kisling said. "Right now, people are needing to make long-term decisions and it needs to be now because we are in a drought and because we have had a period of profitability here that needs to be able to continue."

Water is increasingly becoming a hot political issue and across the United States. Increasingly water represents the reason more and more local political action committees are coming together. The groups are often made up of property owners whose focus is to protect the dwindling resource for their local communities.

The Northwest Oklahoma Water Action Team is a water resources team, which is at present, based in Enid, Kisling said. Meeting places may change as the organization grows, he said. "But right now, it is being funded here for the start up," he said.

The group aims to use the strength of one large voice to levy influence for helpful governmental funding for projects that would help increase access to more water as well as creating a long-term water availability together in an effort to begin to map out a plan.

Some ideas the group will discuss will include ways to better utilize salty water, methods to work cooperatively between producers in reducing water usage and gaining access to some conservation technologies through economy of scale, Kisling said.  

Kisling is requesting that those agriculture producers, energy producers and even just interested private citizens consider serving on the grass roots team that seeks to get ahead of governmental regulation.

"We have about 20 members now from just about all the areas," he said. "But we still need members to serve on the board and at be at the meetings."

Kisling said the group will meet about two or three more times in February, which is an aggressive schedule, but the issue is important and they want to be prepared for the coming legislative session.

The goal of the team, Kisling said, is to use the many thousands of hours of study data that exists specifically related to aquifers that serve Northwest Oklahoma, including the Ogalalla, and brainstorm to find creative ways to combine water sources, cooperate in using less water and applying for funding to improve water access for everyone.

He's right, said Oklahoma Water Resources Board Spokeswoman, Darla Whitley.

At present, those who hope to have water in the future for the continuation of profitable ranching and crop operations as well as energy operations will need to begin to be hyper aware of how they are using it now, Whitley said.

The Ogallala Aquifer, which exists in the Oklahoma Panhandle and western Oklahoma, is the most prolific aquifer in the state, said Derrick Wagner, staff geologist with OWRB.

"Regionally, it is part of the High Plains aquifer that underlies 174,000 square miles in eight central states. In Oklahoma, the aquifer is comprised of the Tertiary-age Ogallala Formation, which consists of poorly-consolidated layers of sand, silt, clay, and gravel with intermittent well-cemented zones," Wagner said.  "These sediments were deposited approximately 3.8 million years ago by streams flowing out of the Rocky Mountains. The depth to water ranges from less than 10 feet to more than 300 feet. In 1998, the saturated thickness ranged from nearly zero to almost 430 feet, with the greatest saturated thickness occurring in eastern Texas County and northwestern Beaver County."

Wagner said the Ogallala commonly yields 500 to 1,000 gallons per minute (gpm), although some wells can produce up to 2,000 gpm in thick, highly permeable areas.

Permeable means water can easily flow through the sediment, Wagner said.

In western Roger Mills and northern Beckham Counties, the Ogallala is partly eroded and thins to the east. Yields may be as great as 800 gpm in this area, but because of thinning and erosion of the formation, typical yields are limited to about 200 gpm, he said.

Most of the water pumped from the Oklahoma Ogallala Aquifer is used to irrigate crops, according to statistics from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

Those interested in becoming a member of the Northwest Oklahoma Water Action Team should call Kisling at the Enid Regional Development Alliance at 580-233-4232.