OKLAHOMA CITY - State Senator Paul Muegge is calling on his legislative colleagues and other Oklahoma leaders to join him in support of policies to ensure the quality of the state's water supply.
"The establishment of standards and protections for water quality is an issue that touches the lives of every Oklahoman," said Senator Muegge. "I believe the recent controversy over confined animal feeding operations could result in the initiation of a positive water quality policy."
Senator Muegge believes wellhead protections are a good place to start. Such protections have been used for more than a decade to safeguard drinking water supplies. Only six states have enacted such compulsory measures. North Carolina could become the seventh.
Oklahoma took a first, small step toward recognition of the need to begin a wellhead protection program during the 1997 session of the Legislature. Senate Bill 30 was passed into law.
In it, the Legislature recognized the importance of "management, protection, and conservation of public groundwater supplies" by instructing the Department of Environmental Quality to create rules aimed at protection of drinking water.
"In that bill we also directed DEQ to develop a wellhead protection program," said Senator Muegge. "Such a program is designed to help municipalities, rural water districts, non-profit water corporations, and other public groundwater and source water suppliers in the conservation and protection of their groundwater and source water supplies."
The information gathered during the implementation of wellhead protection provides data that is needed in more effective land use plans, infrastructure designs, and growth management strategies. This initiative also serves as a public relations tool because tax dollars are being used to achieve benefits, while public health and future economic development strategies are protected.
"Current animal waste issues will more than likely determine how serious further development of a public policy for water quality protection is considered," Senator Muegge noted. "However we must also keep in mind the many other sources of water contamination such as abandoned wells, underground and above ground storage tanks, illegal dumps, old landfills, chemical and petroleum product pollution, improperly maintained septic tank systems, and many other earthen constructed lagoons and landfills."
Oklahoma's challenge is to consider the concept of initiating a data base of information on specific water-shed areas of the state. Before the state can achieve the wellhead protection needed, it is essential that water-shed and source water knowledge be expanded for initiating a comprehensive water protection policy for Oklahoma.
"Having a solid knowledge and information base, combined with the latest hydrological research, will prove useful to begin plans for the best location for further water sources," said Senator Muegge.
Much of the burden on the economy alleged by opponents to environmental protection measures is deceptive. This misconception arises because measure of economic progress counts the cost of protecting the environment, but ignores the cost of not protecting the environment.
"Environment is a quality of life issue, and that should be important to every citizen in Oklahoma," the Senator concluded.- 30 -