2L Kimberly Fink gives an overview of Water Week 2013 and highlights some of the topics discussed.
Water Week 2013, hosted by TU Law’s SERL program, REELS, and the Energy Law Journal, proved to be another success. TU students and faculty and legal practitioners were enlightened by four experts in water law speaking from very diverse perspectives.
On Wednesday, Susan Work, the Sr. Assistant Attorney General to the Cherokee Nation, provided a glimpse into the complexity that defines Oklahoma water law. Examining case law from other states, Ms. Work highlighted the unique problems plaguing Native American water rights in our state. Additionally, she touched on the ongoing dispute surrounding the selling and transporting of water from Oklahoma to Texas, which due in large part to the uncertainty of who owns the water rights – the tribes or the state – remains a politically- and legally-charged issue.
On Thursday, a number of students were treated to a field trip to visit the Pensacola Dam at Grand Lake in northeastern Oklahoma. There, we were introduced to the extensive issues that the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) encounters on a daily basis. As a hydroelectric energy producer, a municipal water supply source, and a recreation provider, the GRDA must consider, among others, FERC regulations, EPA water quality standards, fish and wildlife requirements, jurisdiction guidelines from the Army Corps of Engineers, and tribal rights. One of the major struggles the GRDA faces is resistance from upstream states in the Grand River watershed in adopting higher water quality standards.
On the final day of Water Week, three guest speakers covered a broad range of current water topics. Kevin Patrick stressed the importance of tabling political leanings to fully grasp the importance of water in the face of climate change. Mr. Patrick emphasized that, regardless of the cause, the cyclical changes in the environment require a practical approach to planning for future conservation and consumption. Next, Sanders Campbell introduced state-of-the-art technological developments that are revolutionizing the hydraulic fracturing process. Realizing that fracking requires extensive amounts of water, Mr. Campbell’s company has pioneered the on-site recycling of flowback and produced waters allowing strategic reuse in further drilling operations. These technological advances – such as electrocoagulation and dewatering – reduce consumption, streamline transportation, and minimize disposal of water. Finally, Krystina Phillips presented a solution to the statewide concern over diminishing groundwater supplies caused by Oklahoma mining excavations operating below the water table. Ms. Phillips encouraged the audience that the new Oklahoma Senate Bill 597, which requires mining companies to account for that water, will protect the sustainability of our valuable water supply. Overall, attendees were left with a better sense of the breadth of water law, the intricate nuances of the legal disputes, and the regional and national impact of these issues on our not-so-distant future.