OCC Cooperates to use ARRA Funds for Three Water Quality Projects

Conservation Commission Cooperates to Use ARRA Funds to Protect and Conserve Oklahoma’s Natural Resources

The Conservation Commission has partnered with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Oklahoma on several projects to reduce nonpoint source pollution to Oklahoma’s waters and demonstrate green technology, while protecting and creating Oklahoma jobs. These projects utilize funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that are directed to OWRB’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program (SRF). This program is a loan program funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and administered by OWRB.  

Normally, the program only funds low-interest loans. However, under ARRA, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) has the option to fund zero interest loans or even reduced or zero repayment loans. The ARRA SRF program mandated that states focus at least 20 percent of their ARRA-funded projects on “green” projects, including those that focus on reducing nonpoint source pollution and promoting green energy and green technology. In Oklahoma, the OWRB determined to fund principal forgiveness loans, rather than partial repayment or low interest loans, in order to implement these projects. Principal forgiveness means that each time OWRB approves a payment for some output of the project, the agency essentially forgives that part of the loan.

“With no interest, this means that as long as we accomplish the work in an approved manner, we don’t owe any repayment,” said Shanon Phillips, director of OCC’s Water Quality Division. “This offers a unique opportunity to accomplish these types of projects with SRF money.” Because these types of projects are not necessarily required by a permit or by statute, most groups are unable to take on even a low interest rate loan to fund them. Therefore many of these projects could not happen without this type of funding,” she said.

Project 1: Streambank Stabilization, Illinois River and Eucha Spavinaw Watershed

OCC is using the funds to partner with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to do streambank stabilization in the Illinois River and Eucha Spavinaw watershed. This project will complement much of the existing ongoing efforts in those watersheds to protect water quality including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), OCC Priority Watershed Implementation Projects, NRCS cost-share programs like EQIP, and City of Tulsa, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, Land Legacy, and many other programs working to reduce nonpoint source pollution.

“Many of these projects reduce the flow of pollution from upland areas in the watershed to the streams,” said Phillips. “This project will further reduce the flow of pollution from the stream banks themselves as well as protecting the investments in conservation implemented through the complementary programs.” To achieve this, the project will:

  • Compile a list of sites that need bank stabilization in order to protect infrastructure and the environment.
  • Develop a process to prioritize these sites so that available resources are utilized in the most cost-effective manner.
  • Demonstrate sound, long lasting methods of bank stabilization at priority sites throughout these watersheds.  

This project totals $2,000,000 and is scheduled to be completed in 2012.  

Project 2: Streambank Stabilization on Cow Creek, OSU Campus

The second project involves OCC cooperation with Oklahoma State University (OSU) to demonstrate streambank stabilization methods on Cow Creek in Payne County. A section of Cow Creek is severely affected by unstable banks, threatening infrastructure and property of both the University and county roads and bridges. In this project, OSU will stabilize Cow Creek and will test the efficiency of a number of materials and methods to accomplish this stabilization.  

This project totals $2,000,000 and will be completed in 2012.

Project 3: Green Roof on National Weather Center, OU Campus

For the third project, the OCC is cooperating with the University of Oklahoma (OU) to demonstrate a green roof on the National Weather Center on OU’s campus. Green roof technology captures and treats water that would become stormwater runoff and also reduces the building’s energy usage through shading and insulation.

This project totals $86,500 and will be completed in 2010.

“These three projects made possible by ARRA funds will allow the state to protect existing jobs, to fund work in construction and manufacturing, as well as put money into the local economy,” said Phillips. “In addition, these projects will go a long way toward helping address nonpoint pollution issues in parts of the state. It is our hope that through the successful completion of these projects, the OCC can demonstrate how these alternative sources of funding and expanded partnerships with these agencies can effectively address conservation needs in the state and protect water quality.”