Is Global Warming Contributing To State Water Woes?

Recent developments in Oklahoma have made it clear that it’s long past time the state’s residents should stop taking for granted access to water and that any real discussion about future water shortages should include the potential impact of global warming on supplies.

As it often gets repeated, we can drill for oil and gas here until it's all gone, but we can’t survive without clean drinking water.

Here are three relatively recent developments concerning water issues in the state:

(1) In the midst of a drought and record-setting temperatures, Oklahoma City has taken 30,000 acre-feet of water from Canton Lake in northwest Oklahoma to help replenish Lake Hefner, a supply lake for Oklahoma City area residents. Oklahoma City officials have also announced they plan to consider raising water rates and canceling the upcoming boating season at Lake Hefner.

The move to take the extra water from Canton Lake, which is legal, of course, has drawn the scrutiny of northwest Oklahoma Legislators, who are highly critical of Oklahoma City’s action. State Sen. Bryce Marlatt, a Woodward Republican, didn’t mince his words about it:

Everyone knows we are in a prolonged drought, and cutting back on outdoor watering in the dead of winter really isn’t a solution. Oklahoma City’s ultimate plan is a huge draw on Canton Lake, the main recreational lake in western Oklahoma, but this is essentially going to kill our lake. Legally, they have the right to do it. But it doesn’t make it morally right. Oklahoma City needs to do everything it possibly can to avoid this draw down for as long as possible.

State Rep. Mike Sanders, a Kingfisher Republican, put it this way: “The economic and environmental impact to Canton and western Oklahoma will be felt for years to come if this goes through. This is a dire situation, and the fact of the matter is, if they aren’t conserving water, then they are actually wasting water. We simply don’t have the water to waste.”

If the drought continues here, as weather experts and climatologists are predicting, the water-supply situation will get even worse, with repeated and deepening conflict between the state’s largest cities and rural areas.

(2) Meanwhile, Norman announced last month that it was implementing an outdoor water rationing program. Lake Thunderbird, a water supply source, is more than 7 feet below normal.

According to Norman City Manager Steve Lewis:

The goal of ‘Moderate Mandatory Conservation’ is to accomplish a significant reduction in the water demand to more closely match the supply capabilities of the City. During the last two summers, the City instituted the mandatory odd/even water rotation program in the month of August. However, due to Lake Thunderbird’s declining supply, the City believes it is appropriate to institute this action now. It appears our present situation is resembling the drought of the 1950’s.

Lewis pointed out, as well, that residents use only 3 percent of water for drinking, and urged voluntary water conservation efforts.

(3) The Choctaw and Chickasaw nations have filed a federal lawsuit to protect their water rights in southeastern Oklahoma.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said:

Citizens of the Chickasaw Nation, like all Oklahomans, have a vital interest in maintaining the conditions necessary to ensure a strong economy and a thriving natural environment for our children and grandchildren. Because sustainable management of our water resources is imperative for the progress and prosperity of all Oklahomans, we have worked diligently to establish a working relationship with the state on this issue. Unfortunately, our efforts have been unsuccessful, leaving us no realistic alternative to legal action.

Surprisingly, Gov. Mary Fallin's only use of the word “water” in her recent state of the state speech came in this sentence: “We cannot afford to water down education standards.” This, of course, has nothing to with arguably the state’s biggest problem, a dwindling water supply that could eventually devastate the economy here or even worse.

Underpinning the continuing drought is the issue of global warming. The drought here and throughout the Southwest and Midwest is not an aberration. Other areas of the world are experiencing droughts as well, attributed to global warming, just as climatologists have long predicted.

When you also consider that last year was the warmest on record for the contiguous United States, the rising sea levels that helped fuel Hurricane Sandy and the recent blizzard in New England, and record arctic ice melting, it’s clear that global warming, at the very least, needs to be considered as a factor.

In Oklahoma, the oil and gas industry, along with their enablers in the Republican Party, shut down any discussion of global warming, but nothing substantial can be accomplished in solving the state’s water woes unless there’s a plan that takes into account climate change.

Manmade carbon emissions through the burning of fossil fuels are destroying the planet. The world faces a threat of massive water and food shortages. It’s time to act. Shifting water around to various lakes in the state and restricting outdoor watering won’t be enough.