Event Date & Time
Somewhere in Oklahoma the Clear Branch and the Salty Branch merge south of Salt Lick (pop. 1200) and Wheatville (pop. 15,000). The Salty feeds Small Reservoir, which supplies water to Salt Lick. The Clear flows through Big Reservoir, just northeast of Wheatville, south of Happy Cow Ranch and west of Green Valley Farms. Logear Bass thrive in Big Reservoir, attracting fishing folk and boaters alike.
Or at least they did for eight hours in September, when Oklahoma water managers, wildlife biologists, farmers and others gathered at the National Weather Center in Norman to take the Challenge: the Oklahoma Water Supply Reliability and Management Challenge.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) and the Bureau of Reclamation sponsored this exercise, designed to enhance the state’s approach to drought mitigation, preparedness and response. The Colorado office of AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, an engineering, project management and consultancy company, facilitated the activity.
OWRB invited participants from many sectors: agriculture, recreation, conservation, energy and more. They formed the invitees into five teams of five or six members, each representing a different sector. The teams’ tasks were to develop drought plans for the fictitious Old Faithful River Basin, home of the Clear Branch and the Salty Branch. The characteristics of the basin mirrored Oklahoma’s terrain, hydrology, climate, economy, history and water use. The facilitators set up the game with slides, maps and descriptions.
Scenario One: an extreme drought and a menu of coping mechanisms. As they got to know each other, teams identified the drought’s impacts and formulated responses. Options included voluntary/mandatory water restrictions, rate changes, leasing in-basin supplies, use of auxiliary equipment to access alternate supplies and so forth. They had a Monopoly money budget. Each option had a cost/benefit ascribed to it.
Teams scored points based on how well they balanced costs and benefits while meeting as ably as possible the sectoral needs. Scoring also took into consideration a third factor: opinions of the referees. The referees answered questions while assessing the quality of the interchange at each table. Referees included drought and water experts from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Oklahoma agencies. They watched for cooperation, practicality, innovative solutions and other factors which, from the referee’s expertise, would contribute to the success of the team’s plan.
After Scenario One’s hour-long drought emergency, teams had an interlude of “wet years” during which they could plan future strategies with a replenished budget. Again, teams had to balance pay with payoff, and short-term with long-term solutions and investments. They weighed the cost and benefits of reusing marginal quality water; installing meters; xeriscaping; educational programs; expanding the reservoirs; habitat restoration, and so forth. They had the option of inventing solutions that weren’t on the list of possibilities as well.
After lunch, Scenario Two: Drought struck again, and the teams put their wet-year plans to the test. Some federal Monopoly money rolled in to assist with the crisis, but there were strings attached: It could only be used for emergency response. In every case, a team’s response to the second drought exercise came in with a much lower price tag than it had in the first scenario before longterm planning.
In the end, Team “Up the Creek” took the prize. But in a sense everyone won, by developing a better understanding of how the same challenges affected each sector differently, practicing ways to prioritize actions to mitigate impact, and coming up with inventive solutions.