Legislative leaders today announced full membership of the Joint Legislative Water Committee, which will work on long-range water policy recommendations for Oklahoma.
The Water Committee will begin meeting Aug. 17, when it will start studying the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan and collecting input from a wide variety of other sources and stakeholders as it explores what Oklahoma needs to do to meet its water needs in the next 50 years.
“Oklahoma’s future prosperity is absolutely dependent on water. Water policy affects all parts of the state, so we assembled this committee in a way that ensures all voices are heard,” said House Speaker Kris Steele. “Taking action today to provide tomorrow’s Oklahomans with the water they need is an awesome responsibility that our entire state must confront together. This committee is serious about providing the bold leadership Oklahoma needs on this issue.”
Steele, R-Shawnee, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman in June announced the formation of the Water Committee and pledged to make water policy a top legislative priority during the interim, next session and beyond. By design, the 16-member committee is bipartisan and geographically diverse.
“It is my goal that we thoroughly evaluate the water needs of our state and carefully consider Oklahoma’s stewardship of this most precious resource,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “We are blessed to have the water resources we have in Oklahoma. As policymakers, we must take the most studious and thoughtful approach possible to ensure that these resources benefit our state and remain abundant for generations to come.
The committee will operate in three phases. Phase one will be an educational and informational phase in which no formal action will be taken. Phase two will begin in October, when the water plan is finalized, and will see the committee begin developing water policy recommendations. Phase three will begin during the legislative session. The committee will not hear legislation during the session, but will meet as-needed to discuss legislation or other issues. If necessary, the committee may continue meeting after the session ends.
The committee’s co-chairmen are Rep. Phil Richardson and Sen. Brian Crain.
“This committee will have an open mind and open door. It’s not a committee about selling water. It’s not a committee about a water plan. It’s a committee about water, and we’ll see where it goes,” said Crain, R-Tulsa. “We are here to ask the tough questions that the Legislature needs to be ready to address. What we do know is input will be encouraged and sought from tribal nations, citizens, government officials, engineers, water quality experts, recreational enthusiasts and whoever else has it. We’re here to listen, learn and take whatever actions are necessary.”
The committee will study Oklahoma’s water laws, resources, history, needs and existing policies. It will also explore how to address Oklahoma’s future water infrastructure needs.
“The current drought and heat are stark reminders of why we need a responsible water policy foundation in Oklahoma,” said Richardson, R-Minco. “More droughts and extreme weather are sure to come, and if we’re not prepared, water supplies will dry up and infrastructure will break down. Without proper water planning, we’ll put ourselves at risk of going dry when we need water the most. This committee’s goal is to avoid that outcome by laying the water foundation Oklahoma needs.”
At the committee’s first meeting Aug. 17 in Oklahoma City, the committee will adopt guiding principles for its work.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is scheduled to approve the final version of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan in October and deliver it to the Legislature at the annual Governor’s Water Conference. The Water Committee will hold a meeting at the Water Conference during which it will formally receive the water plan.
Until then, the committee will take no formal action on the water plan, but will begin reviewing draft copies of the plan that have been made publicly available in recent months.
“This water plan is a document that will be a major guide for the committee, but it is only a guide. Additional input will be sought and all information will be considered fairly and objectively,” Steele said. “Ultimately, it is up to the Legislature, our executive branch and all stakeholders statewide to assist in crafting the best possible water policies for Oklahoma.”
Committee members are:
Rep. Phil Richardson, R-Minco, co-chair
Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, co-chair
Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Branan
Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City
Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus
Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa
Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita
Rep. R.C. Pruett, D-Antlers
Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester
Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona
Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City
Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha
Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward
Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore
Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant
Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada