OKLAHOMA CITY - The House of Representatives today passed a measure that would place a hold on the issuance of permits for new mines in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquafer until certain benchmarks are met.
House Bill 2471, by House Speaker Charles McCall and state Sen. Greg McCortney, would place a temporary moratorium on permits for new mines that could affect sensitive sole-source groundwater basins and sub-basins until two conditions are met: first, the state completes a study on how groundwater withdrawals from the Aquifer could impact the Arbuckle’s unique spring and stream systems, and second, agencies tasked with regulating water use and mining in the Arbuckle are working in coordination to ensure data is being properly reported.
“Protecting Southern and Southeastern Oklahoma’s most precious resource continues to be one of my top priorities at the Capitol,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “The Arbuckle is the only viable source of water for the vast majority of citizens in our region. It is vital that we continue to protect our water and ensure our communities have stable and predictable water use policies for recruiting and economic growth opportunities. I have worked closely with all the various stakeholders in the development of this bill to ensure that we balance the needs of those various interests. The bill allows those mining operations currently underway or in the application process to continue so those projects that benefit our local economy can continue uninterrupted.”
In 2003, the Legislature passed a bill creating a sustainable water use policy specifically for the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, which is the state’s only sole source aquifer. That legislation required the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to develop a methodology for calculating maximum annual yield for the Aquifer and develop a scientifically based method for evaluating how groundwater withdrawals from the Aquifer could impact the Arbuckle’s unique spring and stream systems.
To date, the OWRB has only completed the first requirement of that bill, and the failure to develop an assessment of local impacts has created uncertainty for property owners, municipalities and investors. In addition, agencies tasked with regulating water use and mining in the Arbuckle are not working in coordination, resulting in some mining companies reporting much different data on water use to the various agencies.
“The Arbuckle-Simpson is the only sensitive sole-source aquifer in Oklahoma, which means if anything happened, like contamination, 50 percent of the drinking water it currently provides would no longer be available,” said Sen. McCortney, R-Ada. “It’s crucial we have solid data that will help us be the best stewards possible of this resource. It’s the single source of reliable water for some 200,000 Oklahomans in communities like Ada, Ardmore, Tishomingo, Durant and many others. More than 70,000 jobs depend on this reliable, yet fragile, source of water.”
House Bill 2471 now heads to the governor’s desk to await his signature. If signed into law, the moratorium would take effect on November 1.