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Researchers tackle Oklahoma droughts with wastewater

Erick Payne | Senior Producer

Researchers at the Oklahoma State University South Central Research Station in Chickasha for the first time Monday will begin using wastewater to irrigate crops grown on one of its test fields.

The new irrigation equipment will pull treated wastewater from a city pipeline that runs underneath the 400-acre station.

“Every gallon of water that we’re able to reuse around here is one gallon less that we have to take out of the aquifers and lakes,” said Jim McClain, Director of Public Works for the City of Chickasha. “We’re very committed to this situation.”2CkxXJtp

Researchers expect the facility has the capacity to collect around two-thirds of the two million gallons of wastewater dumped per day into the Wichita River by the city. The $1 million project was funded by the state legislature, and then was approved by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in April.

“Our goal is to not discharge one drop of water, we want to use every drop,” McClain said.

In many aspects, the treated waste water isn’t as dirty as it sounds.

“We call it refresh water, we don’t call it wastewater. We take the wastewater in and we refresh it. The quality of water that’s in the river is not even close to the quality we put in,” McClain said.

Climate change experts and agriculture researchers are bracing for future droughts in the Sooner state – with water availability predicted to be a major issue in the future.

In recent years, there’s been a growing problem in the Oklahoma panhandle due to the falling aquifers and farmers using more water.

In response, in 2012 the Oklahoma legislature passed a state law,Water for 2060, that sets a goal for the state to use no more freshwater in 2060 than it did in 2012.

A big aspect of reaching this goal are requirements put in place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which are surprisingly favored by a majority of farmers, according to Trey Lam, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

“When you get out into these rural areas with agricultural people, you use the word EPA and you’re raising a red flag,” Lam said. “They think of regulation and they think of the heavy hand of government.”

However, the commission has found that when they’ve tried to implement and enforce EPA policies, local ranchers and land-owners are extremely open to it.

“We have people in Oklahoma that are extremely conservative people politically,” Lam said. “They say ‘when are we going to have another EPA program?’”

The reuse of wastewater for irrigation at this facility could prove to be a viable option in the future for other regions across the country as well.

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