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State Question 764: Water Projects and the ‘Unelected’ Authority Overseeing Their Funding

Filed by KOSU News in State Impact.
October 16, 2012

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Water is more than a commodity, it’s a precious natural resource that impacts the lives and economic potential of communities and everyday Oklahomans.

And Oklahoma’s ongoing drought has turned water concerns into prescient policy issues.

In November, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 764. A ‘yes’ vote will allow the state Water Resources Board to issue bonds for water projects around the state.

But opponents urging a ‘no’ vote say SQ 764 “allows unelected officials to put money on the state’s credit card,” KOSU’s Michael Cross reports, and could go to projects that harm smaller cities and towns.

If SQ 764 passes, the OWRB could issue $300 million in bonds over the next 50 years for water and wastewater projects in rural and urban parts of the state. The measure is part of OWRB’s 50-year plan to keep the state’s overall water usage to 2012 levels while maintaining growth, KOSU reports, but officials with small water districts say they’re not as prepared as their big city counterparts.

David Ocamb with the Sierra Club, which supports the measure, says older water systems are inefficient and wasteful, and that upgrades could save water.

But OK-SAFE, “a free market and state sovereignty non-profit organization,” opposes SQ 764, KOSU reports:

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.”

Other reasons for opposition to SQ 764 have to do with specific project goals, funding mechanisms and oversight. Lawmakers in southeastern Oklahoma, for example, might not want to fund a project that moves water out of their region to other parts of the state:

“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 Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, tells KOSU.

Another SQ 764 opponent, state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, tells KOSU the measure would allow cities and towns to fund projects by going through the OWRB instead of issuing their own bonds:

“ … instead of using the credit rating in the state … let the city use its own credit structure.”

But the state has a better credit rating than many smaller water districts, so borrowing money through the OWRB would, ultimately, save money, the Sierra Club’s Ocamb tells KOSU.

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