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Who Needs Water Rights?

Posted Mar. 1, 2002

One of the essential elements of life is water. In our personal lives, very little is used for consumption when compared to uses such as cleaning, watering the lawn, irrigating crops or even the golf course. With the diversity of water uses necessary for the American way of life, certain people require more water to support their activities than others. We have all read about and heard stories expressing the strong emotions that can erupt over water. A few of those issues are being debated in the courts today. Whether it is your use of water, your neighbor's, or an activist group protecting an animal species, it is a sensitive issue.

The media has heightened the awareness of the American public about the importance of fresh water. It is a very valuable natural resource that can suddenly become the most important item around your farm or house. If you don't believe me, let the well go off for a few minutes and notice how the entire family gets excited. What if there was a court ruling that says you cannot use any of the water you had grown accustomed to using? Something to think about, isn't it?

One of our farmer neighbors in Texas planted a pecan orchard in the late eighties without water rights. He used water from the aquifer under his place to develop the orchard. In 1996, he applied for water rights. The Regional Water Board, which is responsible for allocation of fresh water in the area, ruled that he could not use any water from his aquifer. Since a large volume of water is necessary for the orchard to be productive, his substantial investment was at risk.

The use of fresh water on your farm is threatened from several angles. If you are considering any type of significant water use, you must apply for water rights. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is appointed by the Governor to protect and administer the use of the state's water resources. If you look at the use of water as a privilege awarded to you as a land owner, the Water Resources Board is on your side protecting your rights to fresh water.

This is not an area to try to keep the government out of your business. You should work to enlist the Water Resources Board in protecting your rights when making an investment. If someone were to buy the place next to yours, planning to use water from the same stream or aquifer, two situations could develop: One is that you already have water rights giving you prior rights to use water; the other would be that the neighbor will establish water rights giving him prior rights. When the question comes up about who gets the water, who do you think will receive the water? The law is written in favor of the land owner that has established prior rights.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has been established to assist you in developing water rights for your protection. Contact one of the employees of the board for information about Water Rights, or to assist you in filing an application.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board
405-530-8800
3800 North Classen Boulevard
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73118
http://www.owrb.ok.gov

There is no reason to apply for water rights if you do not plan to use the water that may be awarded. They require annual reports of water use that are reviewed periodically. The board will adjust the quantity of water awarded to align with the annual use reported.

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