2021 Oka' Impact Report

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MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Dear Oka’ Friends and Supporters, I cannot believe that it has been five years since Oka’ began. It started as a great idea for ECU and Ada due to a combination of factors—the Robert S Kerr Environmental Research Center, the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer, the city of Ada’s Tadzo report, the Chickasaw Nation, the master’s degree program in Water Resources Policy and Management. All these factors pointed to the need for a setting in which water issues could be discussed in an impartial, scientific manner. This led Ada and ECU leadership to the firm belief that a water institute focused on research, education, economic development and policy development could and would be successful! And they were correct! In just five years, Oka’ the Water Institute at ECU has become a sustainable and well-established entity that leads the discussion of how we collectively and collaboratively work together on the water issues important to Ada, the region and the state. In this Impact Report, you will read all about this year’s great accomplishments and you can peruse the year-by-year track record of Oka’. I think you will agree that the leaders and their vision of what Oka’ could accomplish have truly come to fruition. As we close out this fifth year, I want to extend my most sincere thanks to all of our partners and supporters who have worked side by side with us to make Oka’s mission to create practical water solutions a reality. Special thanks goes to the Chickasaw Nation, the City of Ada, and our Advisory Council and to all of our sponsors who make this work of building a sustainable water future possible! I also want to thank our incredible Oka’ staff for all their hard work! It has been a blessing to lead this Institute for the past five years! I thank each and every one of you for the privilege! I will be announcing my upcoming retirement at the Advisory Council meeting scheduled for the end of August. I love what I do and the difference our work makes, so it is hard to say goodbye! But it’s time to sit by the Blue River with a cup of coffee in hand and to rest assured that the work we have all done together ensures that the river and all of our water resources will be here for generations to come! Thanks again! Sincerely,


BY THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE The Water Institute at East Central University At the Oka’ Institute, we recognize water as a critical resource for life as well as being a powerful economic driver. We join with strategic partners for the purpose of safeguarding Oklahoma’s water both for our area and our world. Our Vision “To create practical water solutions both locally and globally driven by research and directed by data that result in long-term sustainable ecological management and economic development.” Our Mission “To address Oklahoma’s water resource needs through sustainable water resource management strategies that address real-world demands. This includes a commitment to public and professional education, a recognition of the economic development opportunities and implications of water resources, and to the creation of scientifically defensible and equitable, best practices for water resource management.”



Adapt is a word that has been echoed near and far throughout the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That was no different when it came to the Oka’ Institute’s trademark events that have traditionally been held on East Central University’s campus. The Water Sustainability Conference was held via Zoom this year, which did more than boost participation: it attracted more than 300 participants from all over. The two-day conference featured speakers such as Ken Wagner, Secretary of Energy & Environment, State of Oklahoma; and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. Topics covered included Water as an Economic Driver, Importance of Water to Our State, Soil Health and Water Sustainability, Agency Updates and Policy Directives, and Field Research Projects – Locally and Global. As in previous years, the 2020 Water Sustainability Conference was a huge success. Feedback from participants

was positive, one survey stating, “Having taken part in several virtual conferences now, this one has been the most professional. Thanks to all behind the scenes who made it all happen. As different as everyone’s technological advancement is, it must be difficult to make this all go like you did.” And another, “The varied speakers and subject matter all keyed into the various aspects of water and how important it is for everyone. This was the best one yet. I liked the practical approaches of the farmers and ranchers. Professors and legislators are great but hearing from people who are having to live with rules and regulations written with input from some very divergent interests is very important.” Water Fest was also held via Zoom this year. Students who participated learned what an aquifer is, and a demonstration was held to show how water flows through various types of rocks and sediments and the importance of every drop counting. While the in-person interaction was missed among event participants, technology has enabled us to keep these events going even through a global pandemic.



The Eastern ASA Hydrology Study is a five-million-dollar study to be conducted by USGS over an sevenyear period beginning in 2019 and concluding in 2025. This project will be comprised of three parts. The first two steps will be the concentrated monitoring of springs, streams, wells, and a look into the hydrological framework. Lastly, the data collected will be compiled to create a hydrological model for the aquifer. With the advancements in the technology of hydrological modeling, we expect this study to be of the highest quality. This data will serve as the definitive tool for all stakeholders who rely on this aquifer for water. The latest progress report is detailed below. Progress & Significant Results to Date: • Maintained operation of new and existing streamgages, continuous monitoring of wells, real-time well, and real-time spring. • Analyzed and published surface water and groundwater data to USGS NWIS Online Database. • Two million dollars of state-appropriated funding was granted to the OWRB for the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer Project. This funding will be matched by Oka’ and their partners over the next ~6 years of the project. • A Gantt chart was created to plan the timing and funding for the rest of the entire project. • Began discussion with the University of Alabama regarding the use of isotopic tracers to estimate recharge in the aquifer.

Plans for Next Steps: • Complete two more rounds of well checks (site visits) each quarter to maintain and keep within USGS Continuous Records Processing guidelines. • Begin collection and analysis of historical data and compare to monitoring data from this project. • Evaluate data from the first two years of monitoring; determine if the current groundwater monitoring network is sufficient for the needs of the future groundwater flow model. • Work with OWRB to begin a collection of water-use data estimates from groundwater permits in the aquifer. • Continue discussions to plan recharge tracer tests.



Oka’ was proud to partner with the Noble Research Institute (NRI) on their SARE grant, The Road to Soil Health. Our portion of the grant was to show the relationship between watershed management and soil health principles. Simply put, the goal was to show that healthy soil can absorb more water. The pandemic interrupted our journey on The Road to Soil Health, but a wonderful opportunity presented itself to stay in communication with our soil health participants. Oka’ hosted its first virtual Sustainability Conference in September 2020, featuring three Oklahomans who had received the Leopold Conservation Award in which they shared their successful journey to improve their soil. This session, hosted by Amy Hays, NRI, was such an outstanding discussion that the decision was made to share the video recording of their presentations and couple it with a live Q&A session with the Leopold Award winners for the soil health participants. The final work related to Oka’s portion of the grant was to research and update our website to include a listing of soil health resources. Links are available at www.okainstitute.org on watershed resources, soil health resources (both the Sustainability Conference video and the Live Q&A video may be found here) and prescribed burning. The pandemic did affect the implementation of the grant in delaying its completion, but it also allowed opportunities for information and discussions that would have otherwise not been included. Oka’ is most pleased to have been a part of this Road to Soil Health and looks forward to many new opportunities to continue on this journey!

COMMIT-TO-CARE Oka’s Commit-toCare Curriculum is a classroom-ready package designed to promote awareness and preservation of our local water resources. This activity package contains a teacher guide, videos, and related activities that will accompany the classroom lessons. This year’s packets included an Edible Aquifer Recipe, “Diary of a Raindrop” activity, a water-themed word search, and short instructional videos for each activity. Oka’ made these activities available virtually to accommodate any challenges teachers and students may have encountered due to Covid-19 guidelines.



The goal of the Summer Research Opportunity (SRO) program is to promote water-focused scientific research at ECU and allow undergraduate students to experience a professor-led research project. A group of four ECU professors will lead science-based water projects as part of the Oka’ Institute’s SRO program during 2021. Leading undergraduates through the SRO projects are Kevin Blackwood, Dr. Jessica Brumley, Dr. Leah Dudley and Dr. Christine Pappas. Blackwood’s project is “Using Travertine to Assess Past and Present Records of Water Quality from Spring-Fed Streams in the Arbuckle Mountains.” The intent is to geochemically analyze individual layers of Travertine to determine water quality. Brumley’s project is “Comparing Differently Managed Soils for Water Infiltration and Quality Changes.” During the project, experiments will be performed on differently managed core samples to identify infiltration and nutrient retention characteristics. Dudley’s project is “Watered Down” and will investigate the impact that native insects have on the crop yield of corn, beans and squash. As the top ranking proposal, this is funded by a Sciences and Natural Resources Foundation grant. Pappas’s project is “Evaluating Uses for Crushed Glass Collected from a Community Recycling Campaign” and will promote watershed management by exploring the potential uses of crushed glass in construction and artistic applications. A community glass bottle crushing campaign will be developed and implemented to keep glass bottles from going into the landfill. Each project requires the professor to select one to two undergraduates to help with research. As a part of the final report, student researchers will prepare a summary of their work and what they learned through conducting the research. Interim project reports will be submitted on July 2, 2021, with final reports to be completed by November 3, 2021. These projects will be presented during the annual Sustainability Conference.


ECU, through the Oka’ Institute, will participate in a 20-million-dollar grant awarded to the state of Oklahoma through the 2020 National Science Foundation EPSCoR RII, Track 1 grant. During this five-year award, a team of 34 researchers will develop and test sciencebased solutions for complex problems that arise over land use, water availability, and infrastructure. The goal of this project is to determine whether an approach combining atmospheric and land sciences with social science can generate sustainable solutions. Oka’s role in this grant is to lead an Opinion Leader Advisory Network (OLAN). This group will engage and interact with the scientists to find solutions for our state on the topic of changing weather patterns, changing water quality/quantity, shifting landscape use, and enhanced threats to infrastructure. Through the grant more than 150,000 Oklahomans are expected to receive education and workforce development programming. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education is providing matching support. Oka’ is proud to be collaborating with other key participants: Oklahoma State University, University of Oklahoma, University of Tulsa, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Langston University and Noble Research Institute.

S3OK Program Components and Design


The Lake of the Arbuckles - as well as the adjacent Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA) - provides enormous economic benefits to south-central Oklahoma. In addition to serving as a vital water supply for area citizens, associated recreational opportunities and more than 1.5 million annual visitors contribute some $12.7 million to area economies. However, Arbuckle Lake is impacted by activities in its 132 square-mile watersheds. The elements that fuel growth and make this area a desirable place to live - the City of Sulphur, industries, farms, ranches and the CNRA - also present complex challenges to the lake’s continued sustainability. Growing water demands and increased activity in the watershed have begun to impair the quantity and quality of lake waters. The Lake of the Arbuckles Watershed Association (LAWA) was created to help the lake meet and maintain its potential. LAWA is supported by the Chickasaw Nation, Oka’ Institute, and a variety of additional stakeholders - including the Noble Research Institute and others possessing expertise in watershed protection and unique insight into relevant local issues. LAWA and a broad Advisory Council have created The Lake of the Arbuckles Watershed Restoration Plan, which includes a detailed evaluation of data to determine pollution sources as well as the most effective voluntary remedial actions. Best Management Practices for the lake and its watershed and related land practices foster soil health and stability, resulting in increased agricultural production, reduced sediment, cleaner water, and an improved environment for fish, wildlife and humans. LAWA provided the Water Resources curriculum designed to provide 5th grade, Murray County educators with engaging activities that focus on increasing understanding and stewardship of local watersheds. It was funded by a generous grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Water Management, Planning and Pre-development program, in partnership with the Chickasaw Nation. Oka’ was pleased to work ECU educators to create the curriculum and gather all instructional materials to implement the curriculum. An art contest was also held to showcase student learning.

WATERSHED One goal of the Oka’ Institute is to provide technical assistance to landowners in watershed areas who desire to improve soil health, control undesirable vegetation, and improve forage and crop quality and production. This is accomplished by site visits, recommending best management practices, assistance with grazing management, and coordination of prescribed burns. During the last year, Oka’ researched and coordinated the purchase and delivery of prescribed burning equipment for the Lake of the Arbuckles Watershed Association using United States Bureau of Reclamation WaterSmart Phase I Grant funds. Various other activities include continued contact of landowners in the Lake of the Arbuckles watershed and follow up with those previously contacted, on-site visits with several potential landowners interested in conducting prescribed burns on their property, coordinated, conducted and followed up on prescribed burns on approximately 2,635 acres of targeted properties within the watershed. These efforts are ongoing and work capacity is increasing as landowners see improvement on their property.



Oka’ has established a 24-member Advisory Council representing local, state and federal entities to provide guidance for accomplishing our goals in education, research, policy and economic development.




Our success is directly attributed to the amazing support of so many individuals and organizations. We would like to thank and recognize the following for the generous support of the 2020 Sustainability Conference.



• Chickasaw Nation Industries Manufacturing • Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer • Dr. & Mrs. Ramadan • ECU College of Health and Sciences • Susan Paddack

• BancFirst • Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma • Dr. Joe Taron • ECU Foundation Inc. • First United • Freese and Nichols Inc. • Natural Resources Conservation Service • Noble Research Institute LLC • OSU Environmental Science Graduate Program • Vision Bank


• Canadian Valley Electric Co-op • Citizens Bank • Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology • Oklahoma Conservation Commission • Water Monitoring Solutions • Dick Scalf





THE OKA’ INSTITUTE oka@ecok.edu |1100 E 14th Street, PMB J-4, Ada, OK 74820 www.okainstitute.com | 580-559-5151

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