Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Oklahoma's future is highly dependent upon the quality of its water. Many state and federal agencies are responsible for ensuring the maintenance and improvement of water quality. Recognizing the potential threat of water pollution to human health and the environment, early in the twentieth century the Oklahoma Legislature enacted laws against polluting municipal water supplies. The legislation also provided recourse for damages incurred.

As pollution emerged as a serious problem, the legislature passed the 1955 Oklahoma Water Pollution Control Act. The legislation declared that it is the public policy of the state "to conserve the waters of the state and to protect, maintain and improve the quality thereof for public water supplies, for the propagation of wildlife, fish and aquatic life and for domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational and other legitimate beneficial uses." The act made it unlawful to pollute any state waters. It was further forbidden for any person to carry on certain activities that cause the discharge of waste into waters or could lead to a related reduction in water quality without first securing a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB). Furthermore, the act made it the responsibility of the State Department of Health to issue permits for the construction and installation of municipal sewage disposal systems. The act also provided penalties for violations.

The Pollution Control Act also authorized the OWRB to develop comprehensive programs for the prevention, control, and abatement of water pollution. It also directed the agency to "adopt, modify, or repeal and promulgate standards of quality of the waters of the state and classify such waters according to their best uses in the interest of the public for the prevention, control, and abatement of pollution." The OWRB was authorized to group state waters into classes, according to their present and future best uses, for the purpose of progressively improving their quality and upgrading them from time to time by reclassifying them to the extent practical and in the public interest. Pursuant to this authority, water quality standards were completed in 1968 and have been revised on a regular basis ever since.

With the passage of the 1965 Federal Water Quality Act, Gov. Henry Bellmon, by Executive Order the following year, created the Oklahoma Water Quality Coordinating Committee. It is composed of the heads of agencies that have water pollution control statutory authority, including the OWRB, Wildlife Conservation Commission, Corporation Commission, and the State Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Industrial Development. They were given the additional responsibility of coordinating state water quality control activities in accordance with the new federal law. In 1968 the Pollution Control Coordinating Act was passed, creating the State Department of Pollution Control and Pollution Control Coordinating Board. The Department of Pollution Control, the board's administrative arm, was responsible for establishing a coordinated water pollution control program, utilizing the existing resources and facilities in the five state agencies having water pollution control responsibilities and authority. In 1970 the Scenic Rivers Act gave state water pollution control agencies the authority to assist in preventing and eliminating pollution within Oklahoma's designated scenic river areas. These include the Illinois River, Flint Creek, Barren Fork Creek, and the Upper Mountain Fork River. In 1972 the state's pollution control laws were codified without significant change from the 1955 act.

In 1993 the Oklahoma Legislature transferred various water quality and related programs and functions of several state agencies including the Oklahoma State Department of Health, State Department of Pollution Control, and the Water Resources Board to the newly created Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Oklahoma's Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Act, created by HB 1522 in 1997, established measures to regulate the state's expanding swine industry and minimize negative impacts to water quality. The act specifically targeted animal feeding operations that utilize a liquid animal waste system.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Water Resources Board, 1980). Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Water Resources Board, 1997). Oklahoma Session Laws, 1955 (Guthrie, Okla.: Co-Operative Publishing Co., 1955).

Brian Vance

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