Oklahoma Water Resources Center

2011 Funded Projects


Click on the title to view this year's project report.


Drought Monitoring: A System for Tracking Plant Available Water Based on the Oklahoma Mesonet

Principal Investigators:
Tyson Ochsner, Jeff Basara, Brad Illston, Chris Fiebrich, and Albert Sutherland

This is the second year of this project that seeks to produce (and make available on the internet) a daily plant available water map for drought monitoring in Oklahoma.  It makes use of the capabilities of the Oklahoma Mesonet, the world’s leading automated weather station network providing continuous, real-time data (including total soil moisture) from 120 locations across the state.  However, not all of the water in the soil is available to plants.  Some is held too strongly by the soil.  The amount held by the soil depends on the type of soil.

Rainfall data alone are poor predictors of drought impacts, because costly short term soil moisture deficits can occur in years of average or above average rainfall.  At the first signs of drought, resource managers need reliable information on the available reserves of soil moisture to enable effective adaptations.

Incorporating Ecological Costs and Benefits into Environmental Flow Recommendations for Oklahoma Rivers: Phase 1, Southeastern Oklahoma

Principal Investigators:
Caryn C. Vaughn and Jason Julian

Providing a safe and sustainable water supply while also providing for economic growth and maintaining natural ecosystems is a serious challenge in Oklahoma, especially given its increasingly limited water resources.  Accomplishing this will require consideration of both the economic and ecological costs/benefits of different water management strategies. Determining the ecological costs/benefits of in-stream flow regimes requires quantifying real, measurable ecological characteristics of rivers and determining how these change under various flow scenarios.  This proposal will focus on rivers in southeastern Oklahoma because (1) water from these rivers is in high demand to meet water needs across the state; and (2) these rivers are known for their relatively pristine water, high biological diversity, and multiple endangered species, including several species of freshwater mussels (clams).  These mussels are filter feeders and thus provide important ecosystem services in rivers, particularly water filtration and nutrient recycling.  Mussel filtration and nutrient recycling capabilities are determined by water temperature which, in turn, is influenced by river flow rates.  In addition, when mussel populations are adversely affected, it is likely that other aquatic species are at risk.  Their high sensitivity to changes in flow regimes and water temperatures thus make freshwater mussels an early-warning test system for determining the ecological costs/benefits of environmental flow recommendations.

Investigation of the Viability of Rainfall Harvesting for Long-term Urban Irrigation: Bioaccumulating Organic Compounds and the First Flush in Rooftop Runoff

Principal Investigators:
Jason Vogel, Jason Belden, and Glenn Brown

Rooftop stormwater runoff can be both a resource and a problem.  With increasing demand on Oklahoma’s water resources, all sources of water are potentially valuable.  Harvested stormwater can be used for irrigation, car washing, cooling, and even drinking if properly treated.  If widely implemented, this could mean substantial water saving along with decreasing the stormwater volume entering surface water bodies which can be a significant cause of erosion.  Furthermore, because it is usually captured close to the point of use, harvested stormwater has low associated infrastructure and transport costs.

However, rooftops can be significant sources of contamination.  The asphalt and flame retardants used in roofing materials have been found in rooftop runoff.  Atmospheric dust deposits can also contain significant amounts of contaminants such as heavy metals and bacteria.  These could pose a threat to human and ecological health if they accumulate in soils that are irrigated with them for long periods of time, to say nothing of the threats they pose if they enter ground- and surface waters that serve as drinking water sources.  Fortunately, these contaminates are largely washed off the rooftops by the first rain water that falls during a storm.  If this “first flush” can be diverted elsewhere, the remaining runoff is relatively clean.  However, the amount of water that needs to be diverted is not easy to determine.

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