East Central University received a $394,000 gift from the Sciences and Natural Resources Foundation (SNRF) of Oklahoma during its annual board meeting Tuesday in ECU’s Foundation Hall of the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center.
SNRF had an approximate 70-acre tract of land adjacent to the Ada city limits which was designated for charitable, educational and scientific purposes. The Ada Industrial Development Corp. offered to purchase the land and, as a result of the funds from the sale, the board presented gifts to the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma and ECU at the annual meeting.
“This gift should have far-reaching effects in studying and improving water-quality issues in the state as well as enhancing our students’ learning efforts and experiences through research,” said ECU President John R. Hargrave.
By virtue of the gift, ECU will launch the Oklahoma Water Policy and Science Institute (OWPSI), a non-profit institute for water resource studies and programs. The institute will develop leaders, both students and citizens, in water policy and management that are focused on science-based policy and are project-driven in nature, thus becoming an economic development driver for the area.
“ECU’s ability to form close partnerships with many organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, is important,” Hargrave said. “We look forward to working with The Nature Conservancy for academic programs and other research endeavors.”
The reason for the institute and program is to create practical water solutions both locally and globally, driven by research and directed by data that is expected to result in long-term ecological management and economic development.
ECU has announced plans to expand its degree options to include environmental health science and interdisciplinary water policy degrees. With experienced and knowledgeable ECU faculty and a nucleus of multiple well-known water resources available in the area, the institute is primed to make a difference in environmental and water research efforts.
The Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer is the single-most studied water resource in the state and Ada is the birthplace of the late Senator Robert S. Kerr, who played a critical role in the water conservation efforts in the state.
The OWPSI is expected to continue the proud legacy of being a leader in water issues while partnering with the Chickasaw Nation and the U.S. EPA Kerr Research Center. Other partnerships include the Ada Jobs Foundation, Sciences and Natural Resources Foundation, Noble Foundation, Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Ada Water Resources Board to name a few.
Research vehicles will include a Visiting Scholars Program, website that serves as a clearinghouse for water-related information, Federal and State Depository Library Program for the Ada area and state, faculty research and information for case-study publications. Outreach activities will include water forums, workshops, workgroups and conferences.
Examples of programs and activities in which the OWPSI may take on include: continue research that has been done on aquifer recharge, use of drones to study water flows as a tool for determining in-stream flows, development of water management plans by municipalities and rural water districts, development of a regional water plan, work with agriculture and conservation groups on recharge and study impacts of water usage through a collaborative approach with industries in the area such as oil and gas and mining.
The Nature Conservancy is receiving a $50,000 gift from the SNRF.
Recently, ECU and The Nature Conservancy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ECU stating that both groups would work together on issues of ecological concern. For years professors and students of different disciplines at ECU have conducted research on The Conservancy’s preserves.
This MOU declares the intent of both organizations to deepen their involvement with one another, increase shared research and carry out more field work.
The gift to The Conservancy will help complete a regional headquarters and research center at the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve, located 19 miles south of Ada.
“This transaction of the Science and Natural Resources Foundation with The Nature Conservancy and ECU fits perfectly with our mission of water as a major importance to our area,” said Karen Hudson, president of the SNRF Board. “With the Chickasaw Nation, ECU, the Kerr Laboratory and The Nature Conservancy all located in the Ada area and Pontotoc County, this creates an atmosphere which promotes our long-term winning strategies.”