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Politics and Government

Strong To Leave OWRB, Become New Head Of Oklahoma’s Wildlife Consesrvation Department

OWRB Executive Director J.D. Strong (left) addresses members of the water board at its Oct. 23, 2013 meeting.
Logan Layden
StateImpact Oklahoma
OWRB Executive Director J.D. Strong (left) addresses members of the water board at its Oct. 23, 2013 meeting.

One of Oklahoma's top water officials will have a new job a little less than a month from now.

J.D. Strong will become the state Department of Wildlife Conservation’s executive director after six years leading the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

He’ll transition in October after the Governor’s Water Conference is over, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

“While I have long loved working at the Water Resources Board, this is probably the one and only opportunity that came along that could have lured me away,” Strong said Wednesday. “It’s because my entire life I’ve been passionate about fish and wildlife issues and providing our state’s outdoor enthusiasts with great opportunities. “This, of course, is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often and I felt I needed to jump at the chance.”

Wildlife Commissioners picked strong after a closed-door session Wednesday, and he beat out three other candidates. He said he doesn’t plan to bring big policy changes with him, and he wants to keep a good relationship with the business community in his new role.

During his time at the OWRB, Strong oversaw an update to the state’s comprehensive water plan, and was involved with the deal announced in August that lets Oklahoma City use water from Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma.

Strong says that historic water rights agreement between the state, the city of Oklahoma City, and two Native American tribes could stall in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., inserted the settlement language into a bill that passed the Senate last week. But Strong says there's no House version yet, and he expects the chamber might not take up the bill until after the November elections.

eCapitol's Christie Southern reports Strong also says the House abides by a different, and more structured process when it comes to Native American water rights settlements:

"We knew from the beginning it would be challenging to get anything done with what's left of this Congressional session anyway, that it might be next Congress before we begin to get anything done." Asked about the potential of a lame duck session, Strong said "Oh yeah, there's a chance." "In fact, the last couple of Indian water right settlements that got approved by Congress have been lame duck. So it could happen. We're going to be pretty dependent on that happening if it's going to happen with this Congress. That's' where we're at right now," he said.

OWRB Chair Linda Lambert also said the agency might have to start over if there's a change in administration after November. Strong said the Secretary of the Interior is ultimately the person who signs off on the deal.

"Hopefully, a lot of the lower rung staff we've been working with all along to address concerns will still be there through the change in administration but certainly the cabinet level will all change so there may be some amount of reeducation that has to occur if we can't get it done during this administration. That is certainly something to watch out for." He asked board members to "stay tuned" and "see what happens."

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