Save the Illinois River, Inc. | Environment | April 27, 2023
April 27, 2023
LEGISLATORS FIDDLE WITH RULES FOR DECLINING AQUIFERS
A Message from STIR's President Denise Deason-Toyne
In the same week that Arkansas warned that its two most important aquifers are still in decline, with withdrawal rates remaining unstable, a bill that will penalize Oklahoma property owners trying to protect groundwater appears to be on a fast track for approval by the Oklahoma Legislature.
House Bill 2053 by Rep. David Hardin, R-Stilwell and Senators Brent Howard, R-Altus and Tom Woods, R-Westville, gives the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) the authority to label as “frivolous” lawsuits to protect water wells and springs.Additionally, the law provides that legal fees be paid by the property owners filing the suit.HB2053 provides that ”…appeals based solely on the industry or entity applying to use the water are presumed to have no genuine issue …and shall be dismissed.”Seldom do you see legislation so blatantly vindictive and targeted at a specific entity, in this case the Spring Creek Coalition (SCC).Coalition members believe the bill is a response to a court victory against the OWRB which issued permanent “temporary” water well permits for mega poultry houses in northeastern Oklahoma. Hundreds of new poultry houses were approved by our agriculture department to supply a large chicken processing plant in Arkansas.“The court ordered the well to be shut down until the OWRB got their act together,” said Beth Rooney of Tulsa, past president of the SCC. “There were also pollution concerns for the well,” Rooney, adding “the viability of northeastern Oklahoma’s aquifers is unknown and wells for poultry farms are not metered.”Save the Illinois River, Inc. (STIR) President Denise Deason-Toyne of Tahlequah called Rep. Hardin’s bill “return fire” from the poultry industry.“Here we have an industry just named by the federal court as responsible for major pollution of Oklahoma’s cleanest streams and lakes getting an umbrella of protection from our own legislators,” Deason-Toyne said. “HB2053 weaponizes the permitting process to frighten private citizens and bluff them into inaction.”“STIR not only has a mission to protect scenic rivers and lakes but specifically to protect and preserve the very important aquifers beneath these resources,” she said.Deason-Toyne urged those who object to HB2053 to call and email their House of Representatives members without delay asking for a No vote on HB2053.A web site for the Oklahoma Legislature is located at http://www.oklegislature.gov/.