Four More State Parks at Risk as Budget Cuts and Low Revenue Loom

A waterfall at Disney State Park on Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma.

Christopher Caldwell / Flickr

A waterfall at Disney State Park on Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma.

Four state parks in northeastern Oklahoma could be sold off, leased out or closed due to state budget cuts and low park revenue.

Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation hasn’t made a final decision on three of the parks, but is considering selling or leasing Disney/Little Blue Area at Grand Lake, Snowdale Area at Grand Lake and Spring River Canoe Trails.

But the agency on July 8 decided to terminate the state’s lease at Walnut Creek, which is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, KJRH reports.

Selling or leasing the parks are just two of the options they are considering.

Blair said department leaders are exploring all possibilities.

On Tuesday, the tourism and recreation department said it would terminate its lease at Walnut Creek State Park in Osage County, thereby closing the park at the end of summer.

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“Oklahoma Residents Get Ready to Circulate Petition to Overturn Solar and Wind Bill”

Two Oklahomans are hoping to overturn a new law allowing electric utilities to set up a new customer class and higher base rates for customers who use solar and small wind turbines.

Stillwater resident Jonathan Pollnow and Oklahoma City resident Bob Waldrop want voters to reject Senate Bill 1456, signed into law in April by Gov. Mary Fallin. The law allows regulated electric utilities to set up a new customer class with higher base rates for users of rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines. If Pollnow and Waldrop can gather at least 51,739 signatures of registered voters, State Question 772 will appear on the November ballot. Backers of a referendum petition must get at least 5 percent of the total number of votes for governor in the last election cycle.

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Oklahoma Agrees to Keep Oil Train Shipments Secret

Flames and smoke are seen in an May 2014 oil-train derailment along Virginia's James River.

Waterkeeperalliance / Flickr

Flames and smoke are seen in an May 2014 oil-train derailment along Virginia's James River.

Surging oil production in states like North Dakota has outpaced pipeline capacity, and the energy industry has turned to railroads to transport oil from fields to refineries.

But several high-profile oil-train accidents — including Canada’s explosive Lac-Mégantic 2013 derailment that killed 47, and other accidents in Alberta, Alabama and Virginia — have raised questions about the safety of shipping crude oil on trains.

The federal government has ordered railroads to share more information about some crude oil shipments with state authorities, but Oklahoma officials won’t share that information with regular citizens, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

After an inquiry about the Bakken rail shipment reports, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said the commission entered into confidentiality agreements with railroads under guidance from the federal Department of Transportation. Continue Reading

Oklahoma Drought Easing in the West, Intensifying in the East

The June 1st update of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The July 1st update of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

All the recent wet weather in western Oklahoma has put a big dent in the severity of the ongoing drought there.

But as one part of the state celebrates above-average rainfall, a state climatologist says eastern Oklahoma — which has been spared the brunt of the drought so far — is getting dryer.

From The Oklahoman‘s Silas Allen:

Despite the rain, many parts of the state are still struggling, state climatologist Gary McManus said. Conditions have improved in northern and western Oklahoma, where the drought has been the most severe for the past several months.

But the situation is beginning to worsen in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state, he said.

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High-Rate Disposal Wells Could Have Triggered Oklahoma Earthquakes, New Study Suggests


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 'Chambers' disposal well in southeast Oklahoma City.

This year, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California. There is a growing body of scientific research that suggests oil and gas production is fueling this increase in seismic activity.

A new paper published today in the journal Science, suggests a small number of wastewater wells used in drilling operations could be responsible for many of the quakes.

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“Norman Loses Four Wells Due To Arsenic”

Norman has had to shut down wells because of high arsenic levels in the past, and the problem won’t be solved until a new treatment plant is built. The city has adopted a plan that includes a new plant, but it will be several years before it’s up and running.

The city has shut down four of its 32 wells because of high arsenic levels, officials said. The wells will be missed, but there’s no critical shortage of water, Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. The four wells represent 4 percent of the city’s total production, Komiske said.

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Oklahoma City Follows Norman Down the Road to Wastewater Reuse

Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.

Brandon Watts / Flickr

Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.

The City of Norman faced a choice last month, meet future municipal water needs by partnering with Oklahoma City to pipe more water from southeast Oklahoma, or treat its wastewater to the point that it can be used again.

As StateImpact reported, Norman went with the more self-reliant reuse plan. Now, as The Oklahoman‘s William Crum reports, Oklahoma City getting into the reuse game as well:

The Water Utilities Trust on Tuesday agreed to a five-year, $1 billion plan that includes work on a second pipeline to ship drinking water from southeast Oklahoma, steps to integrate separate parts of the water distribution system, and improvements to enable reuse of water from Oklahoma City’s Deer Creek wastewater treatment plant.

Treated wastewater would be of a consistently higher quality than the variable river water feeding Lake Hefner, said Marsha Slaughter, the utilities director.

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Town Hall Turns Testy as Oklahomans Seek Action and Answers on Earthquakes

Shaken residents line up inside Edmond's Waterloo Baptist Church to voice concerns and ask representatives from the Corporation Commission and the state Geological Survey questions about recent earthquakes.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Shaken residents line up inside Edmond's Waterloo Road Baptist Church to voice concerns and ask representatives from the Corporation Commission and the state Geological Survey questions about recent earthquakes.

Oklahomans rattled by a surge of earthquakes packed a contentious town hall meeting in Edmond on Thursday and demanded answers and action from public officials.

There was booing and shouts for regulators to impose a moratorium on wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry, which scientists have linked to Oklahoma’s exponential increase in earthquake activity. Continue Reading

“Lawsuit Filed Over 2 Percent Oil and Gas Production Tax”

Earlier in June, StateImpact’s Joe Wertz reported Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent was preparing a lawsuit over the constitutionality of a new tax incentive setting the gross production tax rate at two percent for the first three years of an oil or gas well’s operation. Thursday, Fent made it official.

Jerry Fent alleges in his lawsuit that the Legislature violated provisions in the Oklahoma Constitution for revenue bills because the measure was enacted during the last five days of the legislative session, it did not have a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate and its effective date was too soon.

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Why Norman Is The Only Oklahoma Town Where Citizens Control the Price of Water

Harold Heiple, chairman of Norman's charter review committee, addresses the city council in Norman June 17.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Harold Heiple, chairman of Norman's charter review committee, addresses the city council in Norman June 17.

Norman is the only city in Oklahoma where utility rates are determined by a vote of the people — who aren’t always willing to charge themselves more for water. A proposal to change that came before the city council last week and was rebuffed, despite consensus that allowing voters to decide rates could be hurting the city.

Letting customers vote on rate increases seems like a great way to fund expensive water system repairs and give citizens a voice. But some members of the Norman City Council, like Greg Heiple, say that city’s unique way of handling water ends up costing more.

“I came up with some estimates, and these are my guesses. It has cost us in the last 40 years a quarter of a billion to a half billion dollars in cost of waiting on projects,” Heiple says.

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