By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
One of the newest initiatives of The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma is the Freshwater Conservation Program. During the last year, the Conservancy has laid the foundation for this important program to ensure the sustainability of human health in addition to watershed protection.
“The State just completed its Comprehensive Water Plan and there are some important things in the plan that came from all the input they got from the public and experts,” said State Director Mike Fuhr. “A big part of the plan is focused on making sure that we all get the water that we need.
“Another thing we really focused on is how do we protect mainstream or environmental flows. Those are the unique flow patterns that every river system has – floods in the spring, lower levels in August, and floods again in the fall. Each river has a unique hydrograph. It’s like a fingerprint.”
The Freshwater Conservation Program team includes State Director, Mike Fuhr; Program Manager Kimberly Elkin; and Preserve Director, Jona Tucker.
“We’ve been focused on freshwater for quite a few years, but about a year and a half ago we hired Kim Elkin, a freshwater specialist, to work on some of the freshwater challenges we have,” said Fuhr.
“How do we do conservation for people and nature? That’s what we’re really pushing for and I think it’s very doable,” Fuhr said. “The timing is very good because environmental flows are one of the top priorities in the State’s Comprehensive Water Plan.”
The Nature Conservancy has worked to conserve Oklahoma’s landscapes and biodiversity since 1986. Using a science-based planning process, called Conservation by Design, the Conservancy identifies landscapes to protect, promising to conserve biodiversity over the long term.
“Elkin has developed aquatic monitoring plans for each of our nature preserves where she’ll be doing sampling,” Fuhr said. “Having that data is really important. That’s a big step for us.”
The Nature Conservancy is working with several organizations on the Freshwater project including the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, OK Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, Citizens for Protection of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer (CPASA), Oklahoma State University, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation and the OK Scenic Rivers Commission.
Katie Hawk, Communications Director, said, “What makes our organization so different from other conservation organizations is that we are collaborative and non-confrontational, meaning you won’t see us tied to trees.
“This core value allows us to partner will all types of entities, government, private, corporate, non-profit, etc. Freshwater Conservation plays an intricate role in many of our recent projects that involve collaboration with different types of entities. We bring them together on projects to benefit nature and people.”
Monitoring plan findings indicate that aquatic species diversity is greatest in the Ozark streams of Northeastern Oklahoma where the J.T. Nickel Preserve is located, in addition to the Oka ’Yahnali Preserve where the Blue River watershed and Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer are located.
“The name Oka ‘Yanahli means flowing water in Chickasaw,” said Fuhr. “We chose that name to raise awareness that it’s not only about water quality, but also water quantity. We want to get the water people need, but do it in a very thoughtful way.”
Fuhr continued, “In southeast Oklahoma, the Kiamichi River and others are some of the most biologically diverse rivers in the entire region. They are part of the interior highlands that has this amazing diversity of fish, mussels and crayfish. It’s a real hotspot. A lot of people know how pretty they are, but they don’t recognize their importance.”
Simple things like turning off the water while brushing your teeth, watering your lawn between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., turning off the sprinkler system after it has rained, or using a rain barrel can help to conserve water.
The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to preserving plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The state office is located in Tulsa, with other offices in Oklahoma City, Pawhuska, Pontotoc, and Tahlequah.
“We work almost entirely off of donations,” said Fuhr. “Without the public’s passion, vision and support of our work, the over 77,000 acres we have together conserved and protected for the generations that will follow would be nothing more than a dream.”
As the Conservancy State Director for 8 1/2 years,” Fuhr said, “I have the best job in Oklahoma.”
To become a member, make a donation or for more information visit Facebook.com/nature.ok or www.nature.org/oklahoma.
Freshwater Conservation Program benefits nature and people
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