McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

February 15, 2013

House Dems frustrated with bill stripping water conservation measures


Submitted report

McALESTER — In the midst of a historic drought, several House Democrats said a House Committee overturned the will of the people Thursday after passing House Bill 1562 through committee.

Authored by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, HB 1562 strips language from the Water for 2060 Act, which was signed into law just a year ago and recommends water usage levels and conservation measures for the next half century.

Although HB 1562 does not repeal all of the Water for 2060 Act, it does remove the linchpin of the bill, which is standards for control of water usage through conservation.

Most states, such as Texas and Nevada, have similar water usage plans using similar time spans.

House Democrats voiced frustration with HB 1562, which they argue nullifies an important framework that preserves Oklahoma’s natural resources.

“If back in the 50s, President Eisenhower had not had the foresight for developing the interstate system, we would all still be driving on pig trails,” said District 18 stet Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester.

“The Water for 2060 Act was known as the ‘Speaker’s Conservation Bill,’ when it passed under Speaker Kris Steele.

“That should tell you how important this was.

“It was the only recommendation from the most recent Comprehensive Water Plan, a plan formulated with robust input from the public, that made it into law.

“And now, HB 1562 renders that plan, and the people’s will, meaningless and threatens the water that the people of Oklahoma can use for generations to come.”

Wesselhoft voted in favor of earlier measures that led to the eventual creation of the Water for 2060 Act.

The votes Wesselhoft approved included a measure passed in special session in 2006, HB 1121, which appropriated over $6 million towards the Comprehensive Water Plan.

Wesselhoft reversed course, saying that it was “not responsible” to set policy for 50 years in the future.

“A failure to plan is a plan for failure,” said Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville. “Every business has a long-term business plan. It is irresponsible for Oklahoma not to plan for our future.”

“We have to be good stewards,” said Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City.

“We have to set goals. It makes no sense to say what most other states are doing with their water and how they’re planning for their future is irresponsible, when just a few years ago, the legislature had no problem with this same conservation plan.”