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By Debbie Leo
There is a troubling issue that has come to light after the Tomlin Energy, LLC hearings. It is about who will be monitoring the overflow water from the Kiamichi River if a permit is granted to Tomlin’s project? The situation will become more apparent if Tomlin Energy, LLC is granted a permit for 33,000 acre feet of “overflow” water yearly. There is no accurate way to precisely monitor that amount of overflow water in the Kiamichi River at this time and separate it from the regular seasonal flow of water for downstream users.
A similar situation will be at issue with the Oklahoma City’s permit to take 115,000 acres feet of water from Sardis Lake reservoir using the Kiamichi River as their pipeline. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) has the power to grant the permits, and did for Oklahoma City, but there is absolutely no way of knowing if Oklahoma City will be taking more water from Sardis Lake without taking in to account the flow of tributary waters between Clayton and Moyers, Oklahoma.
Release of the permitted 115,000 acre feet from Sardis Lake can be counted because of Sardis dam at Jack Fork Creek. However, there is no monitoring system that would account for the tributary water added yearly from each tributary creek into the Kiamichi River. Those many run-off creeks add huge amounts of run-off water into the river yearly, but how to discern 115,000 acre feet released from Sardis Lake throughout the year by itself.
Without scientific monitoring of the tributary creeks, will Oklahoma City take more water than they are permitted to take, 115,000 acre feet, or will they take more? How will any agency, be it the OWRB or the Army Corps of Engineers, be monitoring the Kiamichi River accurately?
At this time, there are few answers to the questions of this issue with the upcoming water permits to the Kiamichi River. Accurate scientific monitoring of the Kiamichi River, all the waters that flow through the system yearly, is absolutely necessary to the permitting process.
There are three monitoring stations placed in the Kiamichi River, but they do not discern the difference between regular yearly flows and overflow water nor do they have the ability to precisely count and cutoff flow (permitted amounts) of water for OKC or Tomlin if both are given permitted rights.
Other permitted rights downstream may lose water they rely on without a reliable monitoring system. So, how do we protect the river, permitted rights to downstream users and the fish and wildlife that relies on the Kiamichi to exist and thrive??
We await the decision of the Hearing Examiner, Mr. Ashbaker of the OWRB. The information given at the hearings probably made his decision difficult. Mercury in the soils, scientifically accurate, should be enough to stop the Tomlin project from moving forward, but it may be just the amount of overflow water needed to get the permit. Is there enough water?
The OWRB will ultimately decide. We, protestants and citizens, may be given an opportunity to speak before the OWRB before the final vote on the permit. If it is possible with social distancing and masks, we may be able to make them see who we are and why we fight to keep our river from this particular development. This project is not green and would not be good for Pushmataha county.
As long as the Kiamichi River is at the forefront of potential development by corporations and cities who want our water, the Kiamichi must defend our right to keep our water in the region. There is no other source of water for the region above Antlers.
If protecting the Kiamichi River is uppermost in our hearts and minds to keep us alive and well, then speaking up for the river is required of all the people living here. If the wildlife could speak for themselves, I am certain they would defend themselves, but they cannot. It is up to each of us to defend them also. Hunting and fishing is a way of life here.
Without it, who would want to stay here? Keep that in mind because the cause is real and it requires all of us to speak up. The Kiamichi River flows because we fight to keep it flowing. Add your voice and be heard.