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Adopting Efficient Water Management Strategies to Promote Economic Development in the Oklahoma Panhandle

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Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigation Association & Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition

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Industries: Agriculture & Energy

Oklahoma Drought Forum Case Study VideoVideo: Oklahoma Case StudySUMMARY: The Oklahoma Panhandle is an agriculturally-driven region that receives little annual precipitation, creating a dependence on groundwater drawn from the Ogallala Aquifer. Panhandle agricultural producers deal with a public perception of unchecked water use that threatens the environment and future economy of the region.

Through the creation of the Panhandle Regional Water Plan and the adoption of efficiency measures to gauge municipal, agricultural and energy sector water use, the region will continue to preserve the life of the aquifer upon which its economy relies.

Case Study Water Use


Due to low annual precipitation, 98.5% of the region’s water supply comes from bedrock groundwater pumping.
Portions of the Ogallala Aquifer beneath the Oklahoma Panhandle were experiencing significant declines in groundwater levels.
Despite efforts to chart and project future groundwater level changes over time, not enough is known about aquifers to effectively plan for future water use scenarios.
The population of the three Panhandle counties is expected to increase by as much as 123% over the next 50 years, further stressing limited water resources.
Agriculture, the primary economic driver of the Panhandle region, accounts for 85% of regional water use. Declining water availability would spell disaster for the region’s economy.

Case Study Water Supply


Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigation Association (OPAIA) and Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition Inc. (PREDCI) partnered with consultants from Smith & Associates and Carollo Engineering in 2011 to create the Panhandle Regional Water Plan.
The Panhandle Regional Water Plan seeks to ensure the future of water rights and water availability for the region.
Twelve meetings were held across the region to help develop the water plan. Attendees included members of business, industry, municipalities, farming and ranching, as well as conservation districts.
PREDCI worked with the City of Guymon to create a bill, signed into law by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin in 2012, that allows towns to direct treated water into existing water bodies.
The City of Guymon is in the process of a water reuse study. In addition, city officials are looking into a Bio Gas project with Seaboard Foods/High Plains Bio Energy, in which water is separated from solids for reuse and solids are used for a Bio Gas project. In addition to that project, wind energy (which uses no water) has been implemented as a source of renewable energy for the area.
Some agricultural producers have switched to less consumptive crops and no-till practices to increase water use efficiency.
Though not economically viable for the region as a whole, some producers have switched to higher efficiency drip irrigation. 


Efficiency practices have reduced crop irrigation water use by 60% in the past 10 years, while retaining the same amount of irrigated cropland and increasing the market value of agricultural products sold.
Panhandle water use from the Ogallala Aquifer is lower now than it was in the 1970s due to increased irrigation efficiency and water awareness from agricultural producers.
The water reuse study being performed by the City of Guymon could result in the reuse of as much as 3 million gallons of water per day.
To date, wind energy has saved the state of Oklahoma 2.3 billion gallons of water annually while extending the life of other natural gas resources. 

Case Study Water Use and Crop Sale Value


The Panhandle Regional Water Plan was not mandated or funded by the state of Oklahoma.
The plan was funded by Panhandle communities, individuals, and municipalities, and therefore reflects a high level of stakeholder involvement


Presented at the Western Governors' Drought Forum meeting, “Managing Drought in the Energy Sector,” held Sept. 18-19 at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla. Download a PDF of this Case Study.

Submitted by/Excerpted from: Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigation & Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition, Inc. – “Panhandle Regional Water Plan”

Read and download the full report from which this abstract has been drawn.