Oklahoma Diffuse Surface (“Runoff”) Water Law and Rules
Diffuse surface water (or “runoff” as it is referred to in the Oklahoma Water Law Handbook) is the only kind of water that can be truly owned without regulation of its use.1 As a result, a landowner can collect the runoff on his or her property and use it with relatively few restrictions.2 Most commonly, this collection is accomplished in one of two ways.
First, the landowner may dig a pond (sometimes called a “tank”) in a location that will allow the pond to collect the runoff.
1 60 Okla. Stat. § 60.
2 The reader should note, though, that there are many regulations that govern pollution
of runoff. For more information on these laws, refer to the Oklahoma Pollutant Elimination
System Act (27A Okla. Stat. § § 2-6-201 through 2-6-206) and the Oklahoma Administrative
Code, title 252, chapter 606.
If this collection method is used, and the construction was under the supervision and specification of a Conservation District, no approvals or permissions are needed, as long as the dam is not regulated under the Oklahoma Dam Safety Act. 3
In the second collection method, a dam is placed across an existing streambed to create a pond that is used to collect the runoff. In some cases, the streambed may be dry and in other cases, it may be an active stream.4
3 82 Okla. Stat. § 110.4, Okla. Admin. Code § 785:25-3-1.
4 See 60 Okla. Stat. § 60(A), which states “…nothing contained herein shall prevent
the owner of land from damming up or otherwise using the bed of a stream on his land
for the collection or storage of waters in an amount not to exceed that which he owns,
by virtue of the first sentence of this section so long as he provides for the continued
natural flow of the stream in an amount equal to that which entered his land less
the uses allowed for domestic uses and for valid appropriations made pursuant to Title
82 of the Oklahoma Statutes.”
Once water enters a streambed – even a dry streambed – it is defined as a “definite
stream” and is subject to a different set of rules than runoff. Oklahoma law contains
a special provision for this circumstance, however. This provision allows a landowner
to use an existing streambed to capture runoff in a streambed as long as they allow
other forms of water to flow down the stream.
Let’s say you decide to build a dam across an active stream to create a pond that will help capture some of your property’s runoff. This means the pond now contains both runoff, and “definite stream” water. The owner of land crossed by a definite stream has the right to use some of the stream’s water, but they must also allow some water to pass through their property to downstream property owners. This means that the dam must allow the amount of water beyond what you are allowed to use to flow downstream.
Amount of water allowed to pass by dam
The amount of stream flow into the pond
(Landowner’s captured runoff + the amount of stream water landowner may use)
Shannon L. Ferrell
Assistant Professor, Agricultural Law
Damian C. Adams
Michael A. Kizer
Environmental Economics, Soil and Water Systems
Dave M. Engle
Professor and Director
Water Research and Extension Center
Extension Research Assistant