Senate Bill 597
Non-coal surface mines of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer encounter groundwater relatively quickly upon mining. Indeed, in some places, the groundwater table is 10-20 feet below the surface. These mines can reach depths of 350 feet. Thus, an enormous quantity of groundwater can infiltrate into the mine pits (known as “pit water”). In order to mine, the companies pump the groundwater out of the pit. It is CPASA’s contention that the taking, use, and disposal of pit water negatively impacts surrounding springs and streams—just as any other high-capacity well would do.
Until 2011, mines enjoyed a special exemption that excluded the taking, use, or disposal of pit water from any state agency’s jurisdiction. In other words, mines were allowed to withdraw pit water without any oversight or regulation. Interestingly, non-coal mining operations were the only entities with this exemption. All other users, such as farmers, ranchers, businesses, and municipalities were prohibited from withdrawing more than a set amount of groundwater.
Once CPASA became aware of this exemption and its negative hydrologic impacts, CPASA attempted to reach out to the mines in an effort to reach a resolution. However, the mining industry was unwilling to compromise. As such, CPASA and other stakeholders were required to seek assistance from the Oklahoma Legislature. In 2011, SB597 was passed which brought the taking, use, and disposal of pit water from sensitive sole source groundwater basins or subbasins (of which the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer is the only one in the state) under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB).
SB597 created two classes of mines: existing and new. Existing times (those with a permit or a permit application on file as of August 1, 2011) are required to report how much pit water is pumped from the pit and the disposition of such pit water. New mines are required to obtain a groundwater use permit and report how much pit water is pumped from the pit and the disposition of such pit water.
While SB597 was a step in the right direction, CPASA believes it falls short of the requirements necessary to understand how these mining operations are affecting the Aquifer. Additionally, the mines claim to “recharge” nearly 99% of the pit water removed. CPASA is greatly concerned over the accuracy and validity of those claims.
Currently, each mine submits different reports—some even in different units, such as acre-feet or gallons per minute—which makes it nearly impossible for anyone to truly compare the numbers. CPASA continues to work toward a standardized reporting form in which citizens could compare apples to apples. Such standardization would greatly improve the transparency of the reporting process, as well as ensure adherence to both the letter and the spirit of the law.
As communties, individuals, and businesses that rely on the flows from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, we must remember that the goal of protection and sustainability is paramount to our economic stability and quality of life. The science of the Arbuckle-Simpson study has given us a roadmap of how to best manage this unique and wonderous natural resource for the maximum benefit of users in the area for generations to come.