POSTED ON NOVEMBER 23, 2011:
The fight over Oklahoma water resources
Chances are you don't know Bob Jackman. In fact, it's likely you've never even heard of the independent Tulsa geologist.
But know this: Few, if any, will have more influence on the future public policy surrounding Oklahoma's most precious natural resource -- water.
And this: You should be thrilled the 77-year-old Jackman has taken on this issue as his personal crusade.
"I've been in it -- hell -- a solid 12 years," he muses. "It's taken 50-60 percent of my time. I'm the veteran on it. I know all the players."
Jackman isn't always right. He doesn't pretend to be. But in a world where big money special interests are threatening to sell-off this Oklahoma birthright, Jackman refuses to let politics-as-usual reign.
All the smart guys agree that water will be the 21st Century equivalent of oil, especially in a world where exploding population -- now seven billion and counting -- threatens to stress demand to the max.
You can live without oil. You can't live without water. When you think of the wars fought over oil, just imagine conflict over water. Armageddon, anyone?
When it comes to water, Oklahoma sits pretty -- thanks to the wisdom and vision of 20th Century political and civic leaders like Sen. Robert S. Kerr. The Neanderthal, John Birch Society-devotee running the state's largest newspaper, E.K. Gaylord, excoriated the senator as "water on the brain Kerr." But today we enjoy an abundance of H2O -- a bounty that our high-growth North Texas neighbors thirst for.
What we don't know is this: Do we have enough to ensure Oklahoma's future needs and economic prosperity? Or do we have enough to share with our Lone Star cousins?
This is where Jackman comes in.
For at least a dozen years, North Texas has sought to pipe Oklahoma water across the Red River to meet the Metroplex's exploding growth. They've tried to buy it. They've tried to force Oklahoma in federal court to give it to them. They've tried end-runs by cutting deals with water-abundant, cash-starved communities in southeastern Oklahoma.
Cooler heads have prevailed. It didn't make sense to negotiate a contract with Texas when Oklahoma didn't have a solid, scientifically-based handle on what its future needs -- statewide -- might be...unless you only cared about the money you could make, future generations be damned.
It appeared we might finally get the answers to our water-needs questions in the form of the state's comprehensive statewide water plan, wrapped up last month. But thanks to Jackman's relentlessness, we now must wonder if the water plan was a $16 million boondoggle, designed not to fully explore Oklahoma's future water needs, but to produce a preconceived result: to sell water to Texas and transfer southeastern Oklahoma water to Oklahoma City -- to the delight of deep-pocketed developers.
I'm not a scientist. The statewide water plan is full of Greek to me. But Jackman has raised enough questions -- particularly about the science, or lack thereof, employed in the process -- that state lawmakers and top state officials need to take a long hard look at what the millions in state and federal dollars bought.
State officials involved developing the plan, of course, insist it was on the up-and-up. And they dismiss Jackman as a flame-throwing crank. What else would you expect? There are reputations, power and turf to be protected.
They may well be right in their findings. Jackman -- and some other diehards who won't sell water to Texas unless their cold dead fingers are pried off the spigots -- may never take yes for an answer, never believe that thorough study was completed and the results are contrary to their views.
Here's what concerns me: We have one chance to get this right. Oklahoma's economic future depends upon us acting on the best available science. I repeat: science. Not on the pressure of wealthy interests north and south of the Red River -- nor of parochial views in southeastern Oklahoma.
Jackman has raised serious questions about the science. He had the guts to stand before a joint legislative committee recently and suggest, in effect, the emperor has no clothes. His presentation -- in which he encouraged a federal investigation of how the money was spent to produce the report -- was met with deafening silence. No questions...despite the most provocative testimony the tasks force heard.
Before you dismiss Jackman as nothing more than a ranter, know this: He doesn't seem to have much of a dog in the hunt. Oh, sure, he has some inherited property in southeastern Oklahoma. But he's no land baron -- nor is he wealthy.
What Jackman has is street -- and academic -- smarts. A native of Blackwell who was raised in Miami, Jackman graduated from then-Oklahoma A&M in 1957 with a bachelor of science degree in geology. Hydrology is akin to petroleum geology. Jackman knows the science.
Besides, you gotta love a guy who was clever and brazen enough to help make his way through college by setting up a bootlegging operation in his dormitory, OSU's Murray Hall.
Seriously, though, the legislators on the water task force -- indeed, all of the state's 149 lawmakers -- will take up no more important issue than water. They cannot listen only to the monied interests. Their decisions will determine the fate of our state.
If it means we have to start over on a comprehensive water plan, so be it.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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