Next Tuesday, area residents will get a chance to weigh in on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s order setting a maximum annual yield for the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.
Before the hearing begins, the board needs to identify all interested parties, organize presentations of evidence and establish stipulations of fact.
Hearing examiner Emily Meazell covered those issues during a pre-hearing conference, which took place Wednesday at the Pontotoc Technology Center in Ada. The conference concentrated on procedural matters and did not include presentations on the merits of the case.
The upcoming hearing will focus on the OWRB’s recommendation for a maximum annual yield for the Arbuckle-Simpson Groundwater Basin which stretches across more than 500 square miles in south central Oklahoma. The aquifer and several regional springs are the main water source for Ada, Sulphur and other communities.
Following a lengthy study, the board proposed setting the aquifer’s maximum annual yield at 78,404 acre feet per year. The term “maximum annual yield” describes the total amount of fresh groundwater that can be withdrawn from a basin while allowing the basin to continue for at least 20 more years.
Once the maximum annual yield is established, the amount of water allocated to each permit applicant is proportionate to the amount of land owned or leased by the applicant. The allocation is defined as an equal proportionate share.
The OWRB recommends an equal proportionate share of 0.2 acre feet — 2.4 inches — per acre each year and a five-year schedule for implementing the board’s order.
The board will present evidence supporting its order, including a hydrologic survey, during Tuesday’s hearing.
Wednesday’s conference drew a mix of attorneys, public officials and area residents who are interested in the OWRB’s order.
One attorney suggested people who are not parties to the order should not be allowed to testify at the upcoming hearing.
However, that suggestion prompted an objection from Ardmore resident Julie Aultman, who said she thought everybody should have a chance to speak.
“This determination may affect everyone in this area, and we all deserve the right to be heard,” she said. “I’d personally like to reserve the right to make comments at the hearing if I see fit.”
Meazell did not rule on that issue, but she said the board’s website will include a list of parties to the case and other essential information.
Meazell said she thought the hearing would fall into two main categories, including an evidentiary hearing on the board’s order. The second category would be a rule-making session for deciding how the order will be implemented.
Meazell said the day would begin with the evidentiary hearing, which would include a presentation by the OWRB and opportunities to cross-examine witnesses on both sides of the issue. She said people who are interested in the board’s order, but who are not paid to follow the issue, may want to skip the morning session.
The rule-making session would likely begin Tuesday afternoon and could continue on Wednesday, May 16.
“My thinking here is we’re going to comply with the statute first — the evidentiary matters — then move on to matters that are associated with the rule making,” Meazell said, “because with those, there will be other opportunities to comment as well.”
She said she thought people who wish to air their opinion would have time to comment toward the end of the day, even if they are not formal parties in the case.
The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Murray County Exposition Center, 4000 W. Highway 7 in Sulphur.