Press Release

Release Date: August 30, 2023
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby received the Pegasus Award at the Sulphur Area Water Sustainability Reception on behalf of the Chickasaw Nation. The reception took place July 26 at the Artesian Hotel, Sulphur, Oklahoma. The Arbuckle Master Conservancy District, OKA (Water) Institute of Ada and Buckhorn Rural Water District hosted the event. 

“A Water Pegasus Award was presented to Governor Anoatubby who accepted on behalf of the Chickasaw people for engagement focused on ensuring community water sustainability in Sulphur. These awards are given to those who demonstrate exemplary dedication to water sustainability, distinguished leadership and community unity,” Kris Patton, Chickasaw Nation Director of Natural Resources, said. 

Rep. Charles McCall, who serves as Oklahoma Speaker of the House, and Ken McQueen, Secretary of Energy and Environment for the State of Oklahoma, were also presented with Pegasus Awards. 

“The Chickasaw Nation is committed to building a sustainable water future,” Dan Boren, Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce, said. “This commitment is demonstrated within the development of the Office of Natural Resources. This office was the vision of Governor Anoatubby to carry out the implementation of the water settlement (with Oklahoma) and to watch over the tribe’s natural resources.” 

Bringing water to all people within the Chickasaw Nation, and Oklahoma, is on the forefront of the Chickasaw Nation’s mind. With NASA climate experts expecting 2023 to be the warmest year ever recorded, the tribe’s many collaborations with smaller, rural municipalities within its sovereign borders now seems more important than ever.

Recently, tens of millions of dollars have been earmarked for water projects within Murray County, along with other counties and communities within the Chickasaw Nation. Many of these grants are being funded through a collaboration among the Chickasaw Nation, the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Water Resource Board, and others. 

The capital used to complete these projects is provided through federal proceeds received by the Chickasaw Nation through the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). ARPA provides relief to state, local and tribal governments that have been impacted economically by the coronavirus pandemic. ARPA funds can be used to upgrade water infrastructure within communities. 

“ARPA funds are federal dollars targeted to tribes and states to assist with community water and wastewater infrastructure rehabilitation,” Patton said. “Using these funds, the Chickasaw Nation and the state of Oklahoma have engaged in providing these communities with projects that will make generational changes for water (sources) and wastewater treatment.” 

Infrastructure projects within the city of Sulphur, Buckhorn Rural Water District and the Arbuckle Master Conservancy District (AMCD) will be directly impacted by these funds. The planning of these projects has been in development, with Chickasaw Nation’s support, for years. 

Many of these projects are designed to ease the water demand on the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer, allowing for the aquifer to “recharge” between wet and dry periods experienced in the region. The Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer is the principal drinking water source for tens of thousands in south- central Oklahoma. The aquifer also provides most of the water used for economic activities in the area. 

Together, these projects will save millions of gallons of water from being siphoned off the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer. 

“The direction (of the Office of Natural Resources) quickly expanded into assisting communities who are in need of planning assistance,” Boren said. “Now the Chickasaw Nation is directly involved in seven ARPA projects across the Chickasaw Nation territory area in providing technical and planning resources.” One key project funded by the Chickasaw Nation through its portion of ARPA grants is a collaboration between the AMCD and Sulphur. It will bring water from the Lake of the Arbuckles to Sulphur. This project highlights what can be accomplished by working together and pooling resources for a common benefit.

“This project would not have been possible without everyone’s efforts,” Boren said. “The Chickasaw Nation is a proud partner of this project. It aligns seamlessly with the Chickasaw Nation’s vision for water management.” 

AMCD has pledged to build a water pipeline from the Lake of the Arbuckles to a high capacity holding tank. The tank will be built on property owned by Sulphur. Sulphur will provide the pump station to deliver the water from the lake to the city and construct an additional pipeline needed to feed the city. 

Gathered from the lake, the water provided by this endeavor will be “raw,” or not treated. Water from this line is not to be consumed. It will be used for industrial and irrigation projects. Local school sports fields, the Chickasaw Cultural Center gardens, city golf course and other entities using large amounts of irrigation water are encouraged to tap into this line. 

This new irrigation waterline will provide monetary savings to Sulphur. The cost of treating the water for consumption will be nonexistent. Potable water may be stored and designated for drinking. 

For nearly 60 years, Sulphur has been allotted a portion of water from the Lake of the Arbuckles, but the lack of resources for a water treatment plant hampered pulling from this abundant water source. The new waterline will finally allow the city to tap into their allotted portion with a focus toward irrigation demands. 

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area with its treasured springs and streams relies on water provided by the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer. These springs and streams can dry up during extreme drought conditions. According to Chickasaw citizen and former park superintendent Bill Wright, the most recent dry period was from February 2014 to April 2015. 

Sulphur will drill three new water wells to provide drinking water outside of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer setback zone and away from the recreational area. These wells will provide future water needs to the city. These wells will also safeguard the natural springs water source, continuing their positive economic impact to the area. 

Speakers at the reception included Dan Boren, Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce; Kris Patton, Chickasaw Nation Director of Natural Resource Office; Andy Freeman, Sulphur City Manager; Duane Smith, Director of OKA Institute at East Central University, Ada; Marlon Duke, Deputy Regional Director of the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation from Billings, Montana; Steven Jolly, District Manager of the Arbuckle Master Conservancy District; and Ronald Trett, Chairman of the Board of Buckhorn Rural Water. 

Continued efforts throughout the Chickasaw Nation 

Municipal water supply systems are important to environmental sustainability and for future population and economic growth within the Chickasaw Nation. Community water evaluations and planning activities have allowed the Chickasaw Nation to apply for ARPA funds to be used within communities where water infrastructure improvement is needed. 

Water projects in Murray County are only a few being addressed by the Chickasaw Nation. Other projects the Chickasaw Nation is collaborating on include developments in the towns of Tishomingo, Mill Creek, Stonewall and Lone Grove. 

Tishomingo currently has only one source of water, Pennington Creek. Flowing through town, this water source is extremely vulnerable to drought. Funds are being provided to tap into the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer. This will allow Tishomingo access to groundwater from the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer when Pennington Creek is low. 

Along with this new source of fresh potable water, Tishomingo, the Chickasaw Nation and the state of Oklahoma are collaborating to build a new wastewater treatment plant for the area. Funding was also secured for Murray State College to tap into the Tishomingo water treatment plant. 

The Chickasaw Nation is collaborating with Mill Creek to upgrade its water infrastructure system. Funds are being used to rehabilitate existing well systems, along with identifying locations for the drilling of a new well. 

The Chickasaw Nation is also engaged in water supply development with Wapanucka, Oklahoma. The tribe is assisting city leaders in selecting a potential new well site for drilling and developing a municipal water well. 

In the past, Stonewall received funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal grants from the Chickasaw Nation and Indian Health Service to update its water system. With these funds, Stonewall has updated — or plans to update — its water tower, waterlines, and make repairs to its water processing plant, filtering systems and pumps.