Friday, November 13, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for Nov. 13-19, 2009 - The Battle Continues to Protect Our Water

DURANT, Okla. Hello again, everybody! Six years ago, the battle began to preserve the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, the source of springs and streams on which many of us depend.

Several large cities wanted to drill into the aquifer and pump away billions of gallons of water, seriously risking the aquifer’s ability to support cities like Tishomingo, Durant, Ada, Ardmore and many others in our area. After much hard work on the part of area citizens, Rep. Paul Roan and I were able to win that battle with passage of Senate Bill 288.

That law acknowledged the scientific connection between groundwater and surface water. It prevented the large-scale transfers of aquifer water out of our area, required a comprehensive hydrological study of the aquifer, and put in place rules for the sustainable management of it.

It was a tremendous victory, but the effort to protect the aquifer continues. In the aftermath of SB 288, the mining industry became the greatest threat to the long-term health of aquifer.

Deepening concerns are the persistent efforts of the mining industry to evade regulation of its impact on the aquifer. Untold amounts of Arbuckle-Simpson water ends up in these pit mines, and the industry has done everything imaginable to prevent the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) from regulating that water.

It began with legislative efforts by the industry to move regulation of “pit water” from the OWRB to the Oklahoma Mining Commission. When I was chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee, I killed that bill, denying it a hearing despite the fact it was sponsored by both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate.

After failing in the Legislature, the industry went to the courts, winning a ruling that moved regulation of pit water to the Mining Commission. That unfortunate ruling – still under appeal – gave the industry what it failed to achieve in the Legislature.

The Mining Commission is ill-equipped to effectively manage a water resource. In fact, there is no state law in place for the Mining Commission to regulate water produced by a hard rock mine like those in northwest Johnston County; the only mining law on water is about surface coal mining – none of which occurs over the Arbuckle-Simpson.

The composition of the Mining Commission is – rightly – weighted toward those whose livelihoods depend on the industry. Those whose futures are dependent on the Arbuckle-Simpson are – rightly – concerned about the lack of effective regulation.

In short, what we who support sustainable management of the Arbuckle-Simpson must do is restore balance. That balance, and fairness, and trust were shaken by the mining industry’s efforts to evade effective and objective regulation.

I am preparing legislation that would restore that balance, preserving the mining industry in my district while ensuring that it does not destroy our future by destroying our aquifer. The people who depend on the aquifer and its streams and springs deserve no less.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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