Norman residents are concerned about the declining water quality of Lake Thunderbird. Have you heard such concerns from your constituency? What kind of impact does this have on the Norman community?
Over the past few years we have made several improvements to our Water Treatment Facility as well as our Water Reclamation Facility, which is an award winning site. The next step for Norman is to treat our storm water run-off. Part of the proposed SWU (Storm Water Utility) would help with these future plans as well as help alleviate Norman’s historic flooding problems.While most of our storm water run-off flows into the Canadian River, this is still an issue for towns downstream who do utilize the Canadian River for their drinking water. It is important that the water leaving Norman is as clean as possible, without extra contaminants and pesticides, for our southern neighbors. Some of our storm water run-off does still run into Lake Thunderbird, where we draw the majority of our drinking water. We do not want to add contaminated water to our drinking source for obvious reasons. Treatment of storm water must be our next step toward a better system overall. It is my belief that as Norman grows, we will need to look to our Water Reclamation Facility for future water needs. The water leaving their facility is cleaner than the water in Lake Thunderbird. If we piped the filtered and processed water from the Reclamation Facility directly to our Water Treatment Plant, we would have even cleaner water as well as a larger quantity. Currently, the water processed at the Water Reclamation Facility is deposited into the Canadian River. Since Lake Thunderbird is halfway through its 100-year shelf life as a man-made lake, we need to be looking to the future immediately. Utilizing reclamation water would have lower costs and higher quality water, and we would be able to recycle our water safely instead of sending it downstream.
Do you have any additional comments about our community’s relationship with Lake Thunderbird?
Recently, the mortgage of Lake Thunderbird was paid in full by the cities who have held partial ownership: Norman, Midwest City, and Del City. Now that the lake is paid for, the ownership can be renegotiated. Some say Norman should own a larger portion due to the lake’s location within city limits and to the larger population. As it is, they currently pay other cities for additional water from Lake Thunderbird, as their current share is not enough to sustain their water needs. If Norman held a larger ownership of the lake, they may be able to have the water supply they need without paying other cities for their portion of the water. Owning more of the lake could save a tremendous amount as they currently pay the overage by the gallon. However, we must remember that we are in year 50 of the lake’s 100-year projected lifespan. If we do not find ways to lengthen the longevity of Lake Thunderbird, we will need another large source of drinking water for many cities, not just Norman.
What do you know about the recent law, House Bill 1123, and its impact on the environmental activist community?
The bill passed with regard to pipeline protests and the protestors being on what is referred to as “critical infrastructure,” or areas of land such as oil refineries, telecommunications facilities, transportation facilities, etc. Currently, if you are charged with trespassing, you are asked to leave and escorted by police with no further ramifications unless you have destroyed property. If property is damaged, you may be fined $250-500 and/or serve 30 days to 6 months of imprisonment on top of paying the cost of any damages. If you do not damage anything, there is no fine nor imprisonment, just removal. This bill makes protesting of any ‘critical infrastructure facility’ to the point of ‘impeding or inhibiting the operation of the facility’ a felony of no less than a $10,000 fine and/or no less than one-year imprisonment. The bill also allows law enforcement to charge this felony merely for intent of impeding the operation of a facility. You may be charged without actually causing any issue, just the intent itself is punishable. Even if you enter a site without protesting or vandalism you can face a misdemeanor, a fine of no less than $1,000, and/or six months imprisonment.
This bill is an aggressive leap forward in trespassing laws created to specifically hinder protests against new infrastructure while being constructed, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and Plains All American Pipeline. In many cases these pipelines are on private land, including sovereign Native American territory, that has been legally stolen through eminent domain. Land owners who don’t want pipelines in their literal backyard can now be arrested on felony charges for protesting on their land.
While eminent domain is to be used for ‘public use’ on private property, the vast majority of pipelines are bringing in oil and gas products from other states/countries that are going to other states, usually coastal. Oklahoma land may be used by a private corporation for profit on products that do not benefit the state itself. However, if the pipeline leaks, which they all do eventually, it is Oklahoma that suffers lasting negative effects to soil, wildlife, and water quality for decades to come. With no benefits and all of the potential losses, it is no wonder we see protests.
Oklahoma currently has one of the largest prison populations in the country and the highest prison population of women in the world. This bill would increase our prison population by incarcerating people practicing their First Amendment rights of peaceful assembly.
In passing this bill, Oklahoma sends a clear statement that non-Oklahoma corporations have more rights than Oklahoma citizens. Further, it asserts that their right to our privately-owned land is more important than our land rights, the right to clean water and soil, the right to farm safely (in some cases), and the right to peacefully assemble in protest.