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ADA – A new director is at the helm of the Oka’ Institute at East Central University. Duane Smith, of Duane Smith and Associates, stepped into the role of executive director on Feb. 1. Former Senator Susan Paddack retired from the position in September, concluding Oka’s maiden voyage through water issues. Smith’s knowledge, experience and leadership will steer the institute into new waters.

“I believe Oka’ has come a long way since its inception,” Smith said, “and now is at a critical time to take advantage of its impeccable reputation to mature existing programs and to develop new endeavors that make water sustainability a reality.”

Water sustainability is one of the critical issues of our time,” said Interim ECU President Dr. Jeffrey Gibson. “Duane’s extensive knowledge and experience will ensure ECU’s Oka’ Institute maintains its positive impact on water research and policy well into the future.”

The Oka’ Institute, established in 2016, was designed to bridge the gap between sustainable water management and economic development. The goal is to provide practical water solutions that lead to a better quality of life for all.

“My enthusiasm to work as director of the Oka’ Institute is founded in the mission,” Smith said. “At the heart of this mission is the belief that sustainable water management strategies should be scientifically defensible, include public and private education, and collaboration with local, state and federal entities, universities and non-government organizations.”

Smith is not a stranger to the institute. He has worked alongside the Oka’ Institute, speaking at several sustainability conferences. Smith has worked closely with the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, and the City of Ada on many occasions, discussing potential grant opportunities and programs that would benefit the mutual goals of water sustainability.

Duane Smith is an excellent choice for this important position,” Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said. “Duane has a long and distinguished career advancing water policy in Oklahoma. His work has better prepared Oklahoma for sustainable management of our water resources for generations to come.”

“With more than 40 years of experience in the water sector both public and private, Duane Smith is an excellent choice to lead the Oka’ institute into the future,” City Manager Cody Holcomb said. “His involvement in creating science-based water policy is a benefit to diverse stakeholders everywhere.”

After obtaining his degree in Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma in 1977, Smith began his long service on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in 1978, where he started as a hydrologist. Smith eventually served as executive director from 1997 to 2010.

Smith worked with several government agencies and budgets, ensuring and protecting Oklahoma’s water resources, including working with committees in surrounding states. Smith worked with Paddack to pass SB 288, which prioritized artificial recharge to the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer. Locally, Smith has also worked with the Oka’ Institute on a study of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer, and with Lake of the Arbuckles Watershed Association and Blue River Foundation in implementing watershed best management practices.

Smith traveled to the Middle East twice to address water issues. In 2003, Smith traveled to the Middle East to facilitate discussion on water issues with Palestine, Israel and Jordan on behalf of the Center for Peace at OU. He travelled to Afghanistan in 2010 to work with the US Army Corps of Engineers on water, transportation and energy infrastructure.

“My experience with the US Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan opened my eyes to the fact that sustainable water management is not only a local or national issue – t is a worldwide issue,” Smith said.

After he retired from the OWRB, Smith began his own venture in 2011 with Duane Smith and Associates. Recent work with his firm includes the development and update of the Southwest Oklahoma Water Plan, the Panhandle Water Plan, the Northwest Oklahoma Water Plan, Northeast Oklahoma Regional Water Plan, and the Arbuckle Simpson Drought Contingency Plan. Smith has also worked with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations on the State/Tribal Water Agreement that provides certainty and security regarding water rights in Oklahoma. 

For more information on the Oka’ Institute, visit

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