Agencies regulating industry and the environment in Oklahoma have received some of the worst cuts to funding in this year’s budget.
The Oklahoma Conservation Commission overseas the health of waterways in the state by monitoring pollution levels. It also maintains more than 2,000 flood control dams. Already functioning on a small budget, the Commission will most likely have its funding cut by a furthernine percent. In the last seven years it has shed nearly half its staff. In fact, 20 percent of the Conservation’s districts share employees, while seven districts have no staff at all. These funding cuts will further impact its ability to monitor waterways and maintain flood control.
Other agencies like the Water Resources Board are also to be hit with big budget cuts. This will reduce their ability to monitor the health of Oklahoma’s lakes, rivers, and streams. The Rural Economic Action Plan program is expecting a cut of $400,000. The program is responsible for providing grants to local water managers to improve deteriorating infrastructure. Small rural communities will be hit the worst.
Other agencies are also to be hit by funding cuts. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) faces cuts of 12 percent with small communities again being hit the hardest. The main function of the DEQ is to ensure the safety of drinking water and manage wastewater pollution. It relies on federal funding for many of its programs but oversight and inspection of local water systems is provided by state funding. The DEQ has closed nearly half of its field offices and halved the number of inspectors monitoring water systems. It is also finding it difficult to keep up with the strict federal rules. The bottom line is if the DEQ is unable to ensure clean drinking water for the state, the EPA will step in with oversight and enforcement functions.
Senate Bill 1616’s budget agreement for 2016 is the directive that allows for all of the above cuts to funding. With budget cuts on the horizon next year, the possibility exists some agencies and programs will disappear altogether. The Scenic Rivers Commission will cease its operations in July, 2016, due to its funding being cut completely. From July onward it will come under the banner of the Grand River Dam Authority.
Ongoing budget cuts to agencies that are responsible for overseeing our waterways and water is placing the state and its residents in a very precarious position. Water is an essential resource that can not afford to be neglected.