With the drought in Oklahoma projected to continue through the spring and with the specter of a growing water crisis on the horizon, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), the Oklahoma Conference of Churches and the Whole Creation Community, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, today jointly announced a call for all Oklahomans of faith to come together for a series of Interfaith Days of Prayer for Rain in the coming months and for all Oklahomans to have a meaningful conversation about our stewardship of the state's water resources. According to the Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, the timing is right for the faith community of Oklahoma to come together and discuss the issue of water.
"Many of our fellow citizens seem to believe the drought is behind us or that it has broken with the small amount of moisture central Oklahoma has recently been blessed with," he said. "It's tempting to think that way, but it's just not true. Any amount of moisture we get should be looked at as a truly precious gift and we should treat it accordingly. We must be thoughtful during this time of drought."
The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Episcopal bishop and professor of Native American ministries at Oklahoma City University's Saint Paul school of theology agreed.
"As this drought continues to deepen, we feel that it's critical that all Oklahomans come together to petition for relief from this crisis," he said. "In the Old Testament book of Zechariah, Chapter 10 verse 1 it says to 'Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms, He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.' (NIV) We feel that while we heed these words, we should also take this opportunity to show ourselves to be the best stewards possible of what we have already been given. While we pray for rain, we should conserve what we already have."
According to Charleston, at the end of January the U.S. Drought Monitor showed 92 percent of Oklahoma in at least an extreme drought and 37 percent of the state in the category of exceptional drought, the two highest such categories with exceptional being the worst. Many of Oklahoma reservoirs have fallen to historic lows, with lakes like Altus-Lugert at 16 percent of capacity, and nearby Tom Steed Lake at 35 percent. With the continuation of dry conditions, Charleston said all Oklahomans should be mindful of water.
"These drought conditions should serve as a stewardship wake up call for all of us," he said.
Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) agreed, saying that now was the time for all Oklahomans to join together and focus on our water resources.
"Proverbs 27 verse 12 says 'The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.' (NIV) That's why we need to come together now to think about what we do if this crisis deepens," hesaid. "We've seen Oklahoma City these last few weeks empty a large portion of its water 'bank account' by pulling additional water out of Canton Lake; we have already gone through a year where, due to the lack of water, there was little or no irrigated cotton produced in southwest Oklahoma; we have seen a large portion of our state's cattle herd go to auction because of the lack of water; and now we face a long range forecast that seems to point toward a continuation of below average precipitation. We need to pray for rain. We need to call on the Almighty to help us during this time of need. But while we pray for rain, we should prepare for the worst."
Pope said that the joint call for prayers for rain will focus on a series of events beginning this spring with statewide activities to be scheduled for Earth Day on April 22 and on May 1 during Conservation Stewardship Week with follow up events planned for June 26 and September 18. Local churches and other faith groups will also be encouraged to partner with their local conservation districts to plan events in their communities. All of these events will include not only prayer services for rain, but also information and conversations about water conservation and natural resource stewardship.
"All of us as Oklahomans need to come together to look for guidance and help during this drought," Charleston said. "We should pray for rain and pray for the wisdom to use our water wisely when it comes."