Laws Aimed at Improving Water Quality Hit the Books
Janie Hainey The Journal Record, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Legislation signed into law this session broadens the scope of a state loan program that provides funds for pollution reduction projects intended to enhance water quality. Also enacted was a measure allowing more small communities to apply for state grants that finance water and wastewater system improvements.
Gov. Frank Keating also signed an appropriation measure that includes funds for various water studies and programs across the state to reduce pollution, erosion and flooding.
In addition, funding for a key water quality monitoring program and for a popular program that helps finance public improvements in rural areas is expected to remain at current levels next year, despite the state budget pinch.
House Bill 1995 by Rep. Clay Pope, D-Loyal, and Sen. Bruce Price, D-Hinton, removes the statutory restriction against funding non- point source pollution control projects.
Non-point source contamination results from runoff storm water that flows through pastures saturated with animal waste; yards, croplands, football, baseball and soccer fields and golf courses sprayed with chemical fertilizers; and parking lots saturated with oil, grease and antifreeze, Pope said.
As a result of HB 1995, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board now can extend loans for projects to reduce agricultural runoff and urban storm runoff, for example, as well as for point source wastewater treatment projects already financed through loans from the clean water state revolving fund.
The law also provides municipalities and other entities with a new source of funds to protect the quality of their local water supplies, said Rep. Mark Liotta, R-Tulsa, co-author of the measure.
The legislation requires the water board to coordinate with the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to develop an integrated, comprehensive priority list of all potential water quality projects in the state.
"This list will provide more accurate information on the water quality funding demands in this state," Pope said, "and will allow for more precise financial planning by the Water Resources Board to meet those demands."
HB 1995 went into effect immediately with the governor's signature May 30.
In a related matter, House Bill 2526 includes $397,000 in state funds to encourage landowners to employ "best management" practices and reduce non-point source pollution in specific watersheds. The allocation includes $160,000 for Lake Wister, $150,000 for Fort Cobb Lake and $87,000 designated for Stillwater Creek.
This bill appropriates about $285,000 to underwrite various water studies and to provide matching funds for some capital improvements such as new water lines. It also dedicates $1 million in state matching funds to be coupled with an identical amount from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a 50/50 conservation cost-share program.
Farmers and other landowners apply to the state conservation commission for assistance in financing projects such as terracing to save or reclaim lands damaged by erosion.
In addition, HB 2526 earmarks $250,000 in state gross production tax receipts for a conservation commission fund that matches federal aid and contributions from local conservation districts. …