Water Rights in Oklahoma

The 2012 legislative session is going to focus on water issues. This is a very serious topic, especially for rural Oklahomans. Some preliminary investigation on the issues reveal frightening government oversight of the most important resource for survival. The OWRB (Oklahoma Water Resources Board) is one of the many boards, authorities and commissions set up by our legislators to shield issues from public scrutiny and put power in the hands of an unelected few.

There are really three distinct issues that may or may not have common roots that I think are very important to Oklahomans.

First, Texas wants access to Oklahoma water for west Texas farms. This causes a conflict between state and indian governments over water rights. The Indians have rights by treaty to Oklahoma water, however, some have said that the treaty became void with statehood. West Texas is by definition a desert and has been compensating for over a century to irrigate with water drawn from wells. They have known for decades that the aquifers were drying up but continued to increase production with limited conservation measures. Now that the wells are tapping out, Texas is looking North to find more water. They are willing to pay for water and for the project to pipe water across the state, which would bring some temporary jobs. Once we agree to this we would be obligated to continue selling water to Texas.

Second, FEMA is remapping flood zones. Many instances of absurd flood zone designations exist, but people have little or no recourse to oppose FEMA. Also it is possible that FEMA is incorrectly increasing flood zone territories simply to add more flood insurance payers to to the roles to replenish their coffers after Katrina. The OWRB currently acts as an agent of FEMA for flood zone remapping. While flood zones are real, FEMA does not seem to consistently apply standards. Because a flood zone designation is detrimental to property values, property rights, mortgage availability and insurance rates, we need to get a handle on what they are up to and why.

Third, rural Oklahoma is dependent upon the right to use our own water. There are lots of instances in other states where the government has declared that water on your property is not yours. For example, in Colorado, you are not even allowed to collect the water that falls on your roof to water your garden. There are instances where the government forces you to have meters on your well or pay a fee for using a well. Do you consider a pond a dam? The government does, and as such, the water in the pond is public property. Do you have running water on your property – even 6 inches wide? The government considers this a watershed and demands control of several hundred feet on each side!

This post is a work in progress. Corrections, additions and further resources will be added.

Update

Margaret Snow and I along with Amanda Teegarden, Don Wyatt, JB Alexander (Thanks JB for setting up the meeting) and several other locals got an appointment with Scott Pruitt to inform him of FEMA and OWRB issues. Margaret presented a stack of files on FEMA and OWRB grievances that she has been working hard to collect and organize for the last three years. Thank you Margaret for all your hard work. If anything gets fixed it will be to your credit. Scott Pruitt has assigned an attorney to look into the problems.

Scott Pruitt AG,

We challenge FEMA’s authority to usurp over a thousand years of riparian law precedents. FEMA was created by executive order, not by congress, therefore it is not constitutional. Since it is not constitutional it must operate under commerce. If it operates under commerce it shouldn’t require anyone to buy anything. Where does FEMA get its authority and what is its jurisdiction?

FEMA destroys the normal rights to buy, sell, and use property by applying the UN Agenda 21 concept of No Adverse Impact (NAI) to property use. This shift of burden to prove no adverse impact onto the property owner flies in the face of the “presumed innocent” and liability principles that our citizens expect and demand from government. The NAI principle being promulgated through regulatory agencies completely disregards the direct adverse impact on the individual property owner in terms of cost of compliance, use of property, mandated insurance costs, and decreased property value.

FEMA acts in bad faith with the State of Oklahoma by making other forms of disaster assistance contingent upon adopting onerous flood plain management regulations and enrollment in the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program). We demand that the OWRB (Oklahoma Water Resources Board) as the agent of FEMA limit regulation to be no more restrictive than existing riparian law and specific laws defined by state statute. We demand that the OWRB, the State of Oklahoma and its counties and municipalities refuse federal grants contingent upon enacting laws, regulations, ordinances or policy.

There is a direct monetary reward to FEMA via increased participation in the National Flood Insurance Program resulting from expanded flood zones. The historical record of flood zone maps show a dramatic increase in the flood zone areas defined prior to FEMA administration.

FEMA and its agent the OWRB exercise caprice in identifying flood zones, specifically Zone A, a flood zone by declaration, with no engineering studies to back up the claim.  We demand the Zone A designation be returned to areas defined prior to FEMA or to areas with a known flooding problem since the creation of FEMA, until an engineering study is completed to establish Base Flood Elevations. We demand that, as engineered studies are completed, FEMA shall notify property owners of their flood zone designation and whether NFIP insurance is still required.

When flood maps are updated and change property out of a 100 year flood designation, FEMA requires property owners to file a LOMA to get insurance requirements removed but continue to charge premiums during the period of consideration. No reimbursement is made even when the properties are eventually released. We demand refunds to property owners for all unjustified premium payments.

Property owners have been forced to pay for surveys initiated by the Corp of Engineers on behalf of FEMA to establish BFE’s.

Property owners have been forced to pay NFIP premiums while their property is being studied to see if it is in a flood zone – even before a final determination is made.

FEMA does not recognize changes to property after the LOMA deadline. Many property owners are not even made aware before the deadline is past. A new LOMA should be available any time changes are made that mitigate flood hazard.

The online FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) used to determine NFIP insurance applicability are of an absurdly low resolution and depict a misleading significantly larger area than detailed floodmaps. We demand that, if not FEMA, then the OWRB, take responsibility to make freely and publicly available flood maps of the same resolution and scope for all of Oklahoma as found in limited extent on the FEMA riskmap6.com website. In addition, the high resolution LiDAR maps, engineering models and procedures used by floodplain management to formulate a floodplain shall be made available for public inspection.

As there have been cases of multiple maps being “discovered” to establish flood zones, only one common map shall be used for both determination of flood zone status and used by flood plain managers and the OWRB in the course of their duties of engineering floodplains and enforcing regulations.

At the same time the OWRB is telling us we face droughts and surface water shortages to justify infrastructure expansion, they are telling us we are in danger of increased flooding. They should pick a story, stick to it, and not destroy property values and place undue hardship on property owners through such inconsistency.

SIncerely,

Citizens of the Great State of Oklahoma