Only a few small areas of land, usually in stream bottoms, were cultivated until the opening of the Unassigned Lands and western reservations after 1889. After that, however, many areas were overgrazed and the semiarid lands were plowed. The vegetation that held the soil in place and kept the water on the land was thus destroyed. Subsequently much farmland was ruined by sheet, gully, and wind erosion. In the dry years violent dust storms developed and blew the rich topsoils away. In the wet years great gullies were carved out of the furrows where the land was steep.
Since the Dust Bowl tragedy of the 1930s, farmers and ranchers have worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other government agencies to conserve the soil. They have terraced the hillsides, used contour plowing, and built dams to make ponds and reservoirs. The lands of the drier areas have been planted in grasses to prevent soil from blowing away. The first Soil Conservation District in the United States was developed in eastern Oklahoma, and today each county in the state has one or more such districts. Water conservation is just as important as soil conservation to Oklahoma. When there is danger of flooding, water is stored by means of dams and reservoirs. The water is released into the rivers when their level is low. During dry spells, water is taken from some western lakes for irrigation.
Flood prevention methods have kept river-bottom land under cultivation that otherwise would have been abandoned. The Sandstone Creek Project in Roger Mills County was the first upstream flood prevention project in the nation. So successful has this project been that even in drought years water has continued to flow in the streams.
Even groundwater supplies have become a cause for concern. Groundwater supplies more than 70 percent of the irrigation water used in the state. Aquifers which filled over the millennia are being strained with growing agricultural usage. The Ogallala Aquifer in the Panhandle has thus far generated the most concern over the mining of this resource faster than it can be replaced.
In 2008 the state had 8 hazardous waste sites on a national priority list for cleanup due to their severity or proximity to people. Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; in the period 1995–2000 the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment was reduced by 26 percent. Encarta "Oklahoma" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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