Price tag in bllions for water needs

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Published: 10/6/2011  2:06 AM
Last Modified: 10/6/2011  4:38 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY – A legislative panel on Wednesday got a price tag for implementing priority recommendations in a proposed comprehensive water plan.

The state will need $82 billion in the next 50 years for improvements to its drinking and wastewater systems, the joint legislative water committee was told.

“Oklahoma has some pretty dramatic aging infrastructure,” said Joe Freeman, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s chief of financial assistance.

“We have a lot of old infrastructure that needs to be addressed.”

The Water Resources Board has bond leverage programs, so a dollar-for-dollar match would not be needed, said J.D. Strong, executive director of the board.

“We have financed $2.6 billion in water and wastewater infrastructure projects over the last 25 years or so, but we have only had $20 million in appropriations to accomplish that,” Strong said.

“So we can use bond financing to leverage funds.”

Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, called the $82 billion figure staggering. He is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Water Committee, which will issue recommendations to lawmakers.

“It is an astronomical amount of money,” Crain said, adding that the entire state budget is about $6 billion.

The state can wait until the system collapses and figure out how to pay for it in an emergency fashion or can start saving the money now to make the funds available as needed, Crain said.

In addition, implementing other recommendations will cost $3.75 million a year, Strong said. These recommendations range from the creation of regional planning groups to additional studies for determining the availability of water and water quality.

The Water Resources Board is expected to vote on a final version Oct. 17.

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