We will develop a comprehensive strategy to improve water quality in Oklahoma City’s major watersheds, including standards against which development and management practices can be measured. Most of Oklahoma City’s water bodies are impaired and do not meet state or federal water quality standards, which increases costs and has negative impacts on recreation, public health, and fish and other aquatic species. We will take a comprehensive approach to address development standards and management practices to reverse water quality trends and bring water bodies into compliance with clean water standards. The approach will specify the water quality goals to be achieved in each watershed, identify the contributors to impaired water quality in each watershed, and utilize a combination of development standards, management practices, and targeted projects to achieve specified performance targets. Because water quality impairments arise from contamination at multiple scales, from individual properties to full watersheds, solutions must also be identified across scales.

We will make maximum use of green infrastructure, on-site storm water management, and other best practices to reduce the negative impact of floods and other significant events on water quality. Most waterway pollution in Oklahoma City results when rainwater or irrigation washes across lawns, agricultural areas, and impervious surfaces such as streets and parking lots. As it moves, it picks up fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes and deposits these contaminants into waterways. Water is naturally filtered when it is allowed to seep into the ground, when it moves slowly enough that sediment settles out, and when it is taken up by trees and plants. However, while much of the infrastructure constructed to move stormwater, such as channelization of waterways and rerouting or disconnection of streams, is efficient at moving water, it also increases the volume and velocity of runoff. This creates additional problems such as polluting waterways, diminishing biological features, and even flash flooding.

Alternative solutions, such as green infrastructure and on-site stormwater management, are designed to address both flood control and water quality. Examples include vegetation buffers adjacent to lakes and streams, maintenance of natural drainageways, permeable pavement, low-impact development, and landscape designs to slow water runoff from parking lots and other large expanses of pavement. These methods can be incentivized or regulated in order to achieve specified performance standards. We will maximize the use of these practices, which conserve natural features and work with, rather than against, the landscape’s natural drainage patterns.

We will make maximum productive use of water resources by promoting appropriate and safe use of recycled water. Currently, most water that is used for irrigation comes from the drinking water supply or from underground aquifers. In the summer and during times of drought, irrigation on large sites, such as golf courses, depletes the water supply. Some cities have effectively used reclaimed water for large-scale irrigation. Reclaimed water is former wastewater that is treated to remove solids and impurities. Oklahoma City has tested this on a limited basis and found it to be safe and effective at limiting the use of water resources that are best reserved for other purposes.

We will restrict development densities or require community wastewater treatment in areas without sanitary sewer service. Most of the city’s territory outside the urbanized area lacks sanitary sewer service. Feasible sewer extensions will provide service that supports urban density to some of this area. However, much of the area lacks the population density or has topographic characteristics that make sewer extensions unlikely in the foreseeable future. In these areas, developments typically use on-site treatment systems, usually septic systems, to manage wastewater. These practices require large minimum lot sizes and are sometimes inadvisable because of soil conditions. In these areas, new development should either be limited to very low densities or required to use integrated conservation design with a centralized treatment facility or other environmentally sensitive systems for wastewater treatment.