By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — One year ago, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board finalized and approved an ambitious, comprehensive water planning effort in the 2012 Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan.
The objective of the plan is a dependable water supply for Oklahomans. This involves integrating and coordinating water resources planning. The plan identifies “four core factors critical to securing Oklahoma’s water future.”
Those factors are infrastructure, data, management and regional planning.
The report notes that “Oklahoma must rise to the challenge of providing long-term, accessible funding —beyond what is currently available —to construct and maintain water and sewer systems that furnish safe, clean, and reliable water supplies... Failure to establish such funding for water and sewer projects threatens the state’s future viability and growth, especially with respect to the state’s smaller rural communities.”
State Question 764 is a vital step toward helping Oklahoma municipalities, trusts and rural water districts fund the needed infrastructure. If approved, SQ 764 would create the Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund and allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds.
“This has nothing to do with taxes,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “The Water Resources Board lends communities like Norman money for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, and they’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. They have never had a municipality default on the loan.”
Municipalities, authorities and rural water districts that borrow money secure that loan with revenues from the water and sewer services they provide.
“With that good track record, what the state question allows is for the state to guarantee these loans so that the water resources board can lend more money,” Komiske said.
According to the Comprehensive Water Plan, over the next fifty years Oklahoma will face an estimated $80 billion in updates and expansion of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs. Rather than tripling the average Oklahoma family’s water bill to pay those costs, proponents say the passage of SQ 764 will aid in easing this amount while allowing the state to keep up with increasing water demands.
If approved, SQ 764 creates the Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund which increases the Water Resource Board’s ability to provide financing for infrastructure projects.
“The Water Resources Board can lend municipalities and rural water districts money at a lower interest rate than a bank can,” Komiske said. “This saves ratepayers — our customers — money.”
SQ 764 also would create a funding mechanism authorizing $300 million in new financing for water infrastructure enhancements. This fund would make available $3 billion in new financing for projects, assisting municipalities and other water providers to keep up with increasing demands for more drinking water and for wastewater needs.
Proponents of SQ 764 say use of the current OWRB loan program “has saved Oklahoma communities over $900 million since it began, and the new reserve fund would follow a similar model.”
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