In this edition of Legislative Update, I want to talk about the one major issue that still plagues our state and the major agricultural states to our west. It is the continuance of a drought that is now growing into its third year. This drought has now locked itself into western Oklahoma, with a growing cost near $1.5 billion dollars in agricultural economic loss. Please read that again. Oklahoma agriculture has lost $1.5 billion dollars in the last three years due to the lack of rain and water planning.
In looking at the U.S. Geological Survey history of 2013 and especially the May to July time frame, we see where Oklahoma was in excess of roughly 35 million-acre feet of water. This is 35 million-acre feet or millions of gallons of water that we let out of our state through the river systems.
This number is not aimed at one specific lake or region. This was a culmination of all the excess water that we were not able to capture. The problem has never been that the state doesn’t have enough water; it just doesn’t necessarily have water when and where it needs it. We, in Oklahoma, have been good stewards of our natural resources over the years, but when it comes to water, we have failed in recent times.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau Board of Directors, along with the members of the OKFB family, have made a conscious decision that as the state’s leading voice for agriculture, we must come up with a solution that benefits all Oklahomans and all sectors of the state. We have begun traveling to statewide meetings with each one of you to talk and listen to your needs and the needs of your area. Through these conversations, we hope to formulate a plan we can carry to the leadership of our state and to the elected officials that have the ability to solve this pressing issue.
With ever growing populations and recreation dollars driving the economy in water usage, we need to understand that with serious planning and hard work there is plenty of water to go around. There is plenty for the cities, oil and gas, recreation, irrigation, hydroelectric and agriculture. Water is the lifeblood that can make or break an area, and we need to find a way to best utilize an asset that we waste everyday.
Look no farther than California where they are light-years ahead of most states when it comes to their usage and movement of water. They have gone through different drought cycles over the years, yet they are taking steps necessary to make sure water remains for their people. It is time we in Oklahoma step up to the plate and get serious about how agriculture and other industries are going to make sure we use our resources to the fullest potential before we send them east where most states just dump their excess into the ocean. We look forward to hearing from each of you on how to best utilize this most important resource.