A Look at State Question 764
During a drought, water in the state is precious and a ballot question before voters would allow the water resources board to get bonds to maintain Oklahoma’s water.
But, opponents say State Question 764 allows unelected officials to put money on the state’s credit card.
East of I-35 in Logan County, Buddy Thompson, the manager of Rural Water District One, opens up the gate to the well building for the area.
While it’s just a small 12 by 8 foot structure, it’s reaching 380 feet into the Garber Wellington Aquifer and pumping out 110 gallons of water a minute.
This new station and a water tower going online later this year in southern Logan County brings water to an area which has grown from about 300 households in 1979 to more than 2,500 hundred today.
The drought has impacted water usage as District One Board Member Steve Paris recalls July of last year when 37 million gallons were pumped for customers use.
“For Oklahoma City and Tulsa that’s no big deal. They’re huge. They’ll pump that much in one day, but for a district with nearly 6,000 people in it to use that much water in a 30 day period is , well… it was our high point ever.”
Growth like this inspired State Question 764 to allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue $300 million in bonds for rural and urban water needs over the next 50 years.
The State Question goes along with the OWRB’s water for 2060 plan to maintain growth, but keep water usage at the same level as today.
While 764 has support from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and State Chamber, it is drawing opposition from groups like OK-SAFE, a free market and state sovereignty non-profit organization.
Executive Director Amanda Teegarden says she has concerns about the plan to use the same amount of water in 2060 as in 2012.
“How would you like to be constricted or let’s say rationed to using no more fresh water statewide then we’re using in 2012 when we have so many problems with not enough water. And, that’s in the next 48 years.”
The Water Resources Board says the biggest part of that plan will come from conservation efforts, which is why 764 has the support of the Sierra Club.
“A lot of these older water systems, over half of the water that starts out at the initial part of the water system is not reaching the homes. Under a newer system they can put in you could lower this down to 10%. That’s saving over a third of the water that’s being used in Oklahoma right off the bat,” says State Director David Ocamb.
The OWRB estimates taking care of the state’s water infrastructure will cost $82 billion over the next 50 years.
OK-Safe’s Teegarden worries that Oklahoma is giving its credit card to an organization with no oversight.
“They get to approve the projects. And, they get to award the money. So, who’s overseeing the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and exactly who’s going to be awarded the contracts for this.”
This ambiguity drew a no vote from State Senator Jim Wilson when State Question 762 was just House Joint Resolution 1085.
The Tahlequah Democrat says a $300 million bond could go to projects he can’t support.
“I think that’s an effort to work on this transfer of water from southeastern Oklahoma to central Oklahoma and on to Texas because it was such a huge amount of money. If it hadn’t been such a big amount of money it would be business as usual.”
State Representative Mike Reynolds was one of only 11 House members to vote against HJR 1085.
While he’s happy to see a bond issue going before a vote of the people, the Oklahoma City Republican takes issue with cities and town going through the O-W-R-B rather than issuing their own bonds.
“If some city thinks they don’t have enough water and they don’t like water rationing in the summer than instead of using the credit rating in the state so that that city can water their lawns all summer long let the city use its own credit structure.”
But, the Sierra Club’s Ocamb explains the state will be able to get a much better deal with its credit rating than a rural area.
“The state is almost a AAA rated borrower where as any of those smaller districts would be a subprime borrower. And a subprime borrowing rate would be about 8% or 9% interest in comparison to 2% to 3% interest.”
Ocamb says this would ultimately save the state money.
Steve Paris back in Logan County believes the extra money means towers, pipes and power for growing areas.
He worries if 764 doesn’t pass it would be devastating.
“We’re going to have issues with people reporting low water pressure. Oh by the way, we can’t build houses here because we can’t get water there. And so it’s going to slow growth. It’s going to slow our economic future. To me, it’s imperative. We have to vote for this.”
Paris adds this state question would be paid for by the local water districts, and would not include a tax increase.
SQ 764 is one of six questions on the ballot in the general election November 6th.