Communication missing from water hunt

By Ray Dyer

One word is obviously missing when learning how members of the Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority, also known as COWRA, were taken by surprise by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s plan to study the same issues undertaken by the local authority.

That word is communication.

COWRA lobbyist Shawn Lepard said he was planning to discuss the OWRB plan with COWRA members at a meeting in Yukon last Friday. Lepard did not attend the public meeting held last spring in April that was hosted by OWRB. That meeting, also in Yukon, was to gather input from “stakeholders” interested in water issues. Lepard said he thought a COWRA representative was at the meeting, but wasn’t for sure.

J.D. Strong, the executive director of the OWRB, said he too believed a COWRA authority member was present, but again he wasn’t sure. Lepard said the Yukon meeting was lightly attended, while Strong said it had strong attendance, until told of what Lepard said, then backed away from his earlier statement.

Strong said he and Lepard have worked closely on water issues over the years.

But is Lepard working closely with COWRA, the entity that is paying him a handsome sum of money to help develop a “secure water source” for Canadian County?

When city managers and county commissioners who serve on the COWRA board don’t know what’s going on until contacted by reporters, the answer may not be yes.

The people who serve on the COWRA board, in my opinion, deserve credit. They are taking on a task, whether right or wrong, apparently without seeking compensation. It appears they are people who are trying to make a difference.

Hats off to that.

Can the same be said for the paid lobbyist?

Don’t know. Hope so. But don’t know.

Strong and Lepard both said COWRA needs to continue its independent work at finding a source of brackish water. Lepard said the local folks, meaning COWRA, shouldn’t expect the state to do for it what it should be doing for itself.

At the same time, Strong said the federal government is no longer interested in building a lake or reservoir so that option is off the table. He agrees, a body of water would produce a far greater economic impact than simply drilling holes in the ground.

“The low hanging fruit is gone,” Strong said, referring to a lack of federal support for such an undertaking.

So, COWRA is supposed to be independent, but OWRB isn’t? Is that what I’m hearing?

One point that did stick out, at least in my mind, that causes me concern, is that no one from the Oklahoma Water Resource Board or COWRA, from what I can gather, has ever picked up the phone and called the Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders to discuss water.

Oklahoma City is involved in a lawsuit with two powerful Native American tribes over an effort to pull water from lakes in southeastern Oklahoma. How long will it take to get that resolved?

From what I understand, Concho, home of the C&A tribal headquarters, sits on about 6,000 acres. Under this land that runs along the North Canadian River are natural springs. The springs supplied water for cattle drives that moved through here in the 1800s. It gave water to Native Americans and early settlers. From what I’m told, the springs are still running. And yet, no one has picked up the phone and invited the C&A to the water talk table.

Of course, Oklahoma City hasn’t been invited to the COWRA table either, even though it’s the largest city in Canadian County.

Communication is a big deal.