NORMAN — Everywhere you look, people are worked up about water.
The U.S. Supreme Court will rule soon on a water dispute between Oklahoma and Texas. The state is in mediation with Native American tribes over southeast Oklahoma water. The entire state is suffering from a three-year drought despite recent rainfall and snowstorms. Lake levels have fallen and communities are imposing water rationing. People near Canton Lake are mad at Oklahoma City for draining the reservoir so Lake Hefner won’t dry up.
Many of these disputes wind up on the desktop of J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Last year, Strong’s agency drafted a new 50-year water plan. Among other things, it calls for a $82 billion program to upgrade the state’s drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure over the next five decades.
In an interview with Oklahoma Watch’ s Warren Vieth, Strong discusses the severity of the state’s
current water crisis, the pending legal battles over water and the Canton Lake
controversy. Although the state will always be vulnerable to drought-induced shortages, he explains what can be done to make their impact less dire.
A fifth-generation Oklahoman, Strong, 41, grew up in Weatherford and received his bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology from Oklahoma State University. He joined the Water Resources Board in 1993 as an environmental specialist and worked his way up to the director’s office.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Q: Is the state of Oklahoma running out of water?
A: On average, no. But at the present time we are having water stresses incertain areas of the state. We’re in the third year of an extended drought. Hopefully we’re at the end of it, but maybe we’re in the middle. Who knows?