Friday, November 14, 2008

Water and climate change: a study comes to Oklahoma

[photo: Western Oklahoma: where there's circa no water ... Sorry, I don't have a picture of Lake Altus...]

By John Sutter

As the world gets warmer, water resources are sure to get weirder. Wet areas are expected to get wetter, and dry areas are supposed to get drier as humans continue to release huge amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

Now, a state and federal agency want to find out what climate change will do to Oklahoma's already stretched water resources. The state Water Resources Board and a branch of the U.S. Department of Interior announced yesterday a $100,000 study looking at changes to water resources in two watersheds -- one in Oklahoma and one in Texas.

The Oklahoma side of the study will focus on an area that includes Lake Altus, which is a major source of water used for irrigating cotton crops in the southern part of the state. The study will look at water availability and also the resource's impact on local ecology.

The study comes at a turbulent time for water law in Oklahoma. The state is in the process of writing a new water policy which will govern how Oklahomans use water for the next 50 years. The results of the study, to be finished by 2010, will be incorporated into the new water plan, officials said in a news release.

If you're interested, here's a schedule of upcoming water plan meetings. The process--which includes a bunch of community-level meetings in all corners of the state--is expected to be finished by 2011.

IN NATIONAL water news, the New York Times' blog Dot Earth notes that the Center for Biological Diversity may soon sue to force the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists are coming at carbon regulation from all angles--often trying to use existing environmental regulations, like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, as reasons for the EPA to clamp down on emissions of heat-trapping gases. Using the Clean Water Act to this end would be new, though. The group may claim that the EPA must regulate carbon dioxide because it is making the oceans acidic, which is killing marine life.

In the blog, a White House spokesperson said such a move would create a "regulatory train wreck." The Bush Administration has opposed using existing environmental laws as reason to control carbon dioxide emissions.

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