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Sustainability is key to water usage, specialists say

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
Mary Power speaking during the conference on water issues on April 4.
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NORMAN, Okla. – Four academics were invited by the Environmental Studies of the University of Oklahoma to speak last week about water issues in California and Oklahoma.

The speakers present were Mary Power, a professor at the Department of Integrative Biology of the University of California Berkeley, Jadwiga Ziolkowska, a professor at the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at OU, Stephen Greetham, the Chief General Counsel of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Commerce and as the Nation's Special Counsel on water and natural resources, and Zev Trachtenberg, a professor of philosophy at OU.

From the mountains of California to the plains of Oklahoma, one thing that is sure is water resources are more important than ever and understanding how to manage it in a sustainable way is the key to a safe and stable future.

Jad Ziolkowska speaking at the conference on April 4.

Unfortunately, during the past decades, the management of water resources has been neglected often for economic reasons and sometimes also due to a lack of acknowledgment. And as Ziolkowska said, several water issues today are threatening the precious resource in Oklahoma such as climate change through drought and flood, water quality (arsenic and Chromium 6) and human activities.

Human activities use of water doesn't limit to only personal consumption, but also for food and energy production such as for cooling systems and gas and oil extraction. And according to the Oklahoma Water Resource Board, the consumption of water should increase from 1.8 million in 2010 to 2.5 million acre-feet/year in 2060.

“The water supply is not growing, but water demand is growing,” Ziolkowska said.

She noted that drought has been particularly severe over the last year in Oklahoma and Texas and one idea to compensate the low level of water in the future is to use Brackish water that has more salinity than fresh water, but not as much as seawater. The use of Brackish will require building of a desalinized water plan as it exists already in the U.S. with more than 200 plans in activities.

Another possibility proposed by Ziolkowska could be to adapt the price of water to limit human consumption saying, “There is a lot of discussion about this today.”

Stephen Greetham speaking at the conference on April 4.

However, as Power and Greetham said, Native Americans can play an important role in managing and preserving water resources as they did already before Europeans started to invade America. Greetham said the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma has written laws that protect water since 1890, far more before the EPA was created.

“The tribes are now coming back as economic drivers in this part of the world,” Greetham said.

Furthermore, answering the question about water sustainability, Greetham believes the best way to manage water issues is to be in contact with the community who is affected by the problem. Power added communities need to be advised by experts in the field concerned in defending their interests in the long run.

“Science tends to always be a way ahead of what the law is ready to deal with,” Greetham said.

Oklahoma has been the first in 2012 in the U.S. to establish a bold, statewide goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than was consumed in 2010.

For more information about water resources in Oklahoma go on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s website.

This lecture was part of the EarthMonth@OU2017 that propose a series of distinguished speakers organized by the Environmental Studies from March 22 to April 22 at the University of Oklahoma. For more information go to EarthMonth@OU2017’s website.

Photos by Red Dirt Report's Olivier Rey.

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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