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Dry ideas

In the wake of a brutal drought, OKC officials consider water conservation efforts.

Clifton Adcock February 13th, 2013

Amid a two-year drought with no relief in sight, Oklahoma City is exploring further water conservation, including raising water rates if a customer exceeds normal usage.

Lake Hefner
Credit: Shannon Cornman

At the end of January, the city requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers release water from Lake Canton, to which the city has water rights, to replenish Lake Hefner, a municipal water reservoir that’s down 18 feet below normal.

A state wildlife official said that action is likely to kill fish in Canton Lake this summer. Residents near the lake in northwestern Oklahoma said the water release will plunge Canton to critical levels and devastate tourism and recreation in the area.

Marsha Slaughter, Oklahoma City’s utilities director, told Oklahoma City Council on Feb. 5 that Canton Lake’s level, which is 18 or 19 feet below normal, is about where it was expected to be.

Another 30,000 acre feet of water should be available for the taking next year, she said, and the lake should refill in up to two years.

Slaughter said four conservation measures are under consideration by Oklahoma City:

—increasing education and awareness,
—reducing outdoor watering time (the city implemented odd/even watering rotation in December), —strengthening enforcement against conservation measure violators, and
—restructuring water utility rates.

That last point was the subject of a presentation to the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust.

The city is considering restructuring rates in a way that would continue current rates ($2.55 per 1,000 gallons for residential customers) for individuals who use the average amount of water that they have over a given period of time in previous years.

Depending on how strict the city wants to make its conservation effort, going over that amount would mean paying higher rates, according to Bret Weingart, assistant director of city utilities.

Because of significantly low water levels at Hefner — which is around 7 feet below normal, even with the Canton release — the lake’s boating season will be canceled this summer.

Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the utility department, said the city is sending letters to people who have rented boat slips to inform them of the development.

Marsha Slaughter

Currently, 311 boat slips are being rented out by the city at a rate of $414 to $745 a year, she said.

Ragan said the Canton Lake release might raise Hefner’s level enough for boaters to retrieve their boats, many of which are resting on the lake bed.

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02.13.2013 at 12:01 Reply

Thank you Gazette!! For helping spread the word about the severity of the drought in Oklahoma. Water is quickly becoming a serious issue in our state, and one that can't be taken lightly. The user of such a precious natural resource must be responsible. The people in charge in OKC have not spread that word to the water patrons there. While I enjoy visiting the City, I don't enjoy seeing water continuing to be wasted there while business owners and their employees are fearing for their jobs in the communities that surround Canton Lake. I don't think it's right that the Mayor with all his "Big City" ideas for growth and expansion, is giving little to no thought of the adverse effects of that growth on the water supplies of rural Oklahoma and the people that depend on it. I do commend you for keeping this subject in the news! You seem to be one of the only news outlets interested in getting the truth out. Bravo! Mark Fuqua


02.15.2013 at 06:38 Reply

Since we are beginning the third year of this horrific drought and Oklahoma City has just now obliterated Canton Lake from the map, the question becomes why did Oklahoma City not institute any water-saving measures at all over the past two years?  These past two years have been dryer than during the Dust Bowl, yet there was no odd/even schedule imposed either of the past two summers.   Other cities and towns around the state did this and are in much better shape, supply-wise.

If there is not sufficient rain this summer, and the NWS is predicting the drought to continue and intensify, the prediction that Canton will refill in 2 years is a pipe-dream.  It certainly has not refilled in the past 2 years.  Predictions are that the remaining water in Canton Lake will be tainted by the massive fish kill and algae bloom this summer, so this may be the last release OKC can get from Canton, and then what are they going to do?   


03.04.2013 at 08:37

I think they intend to ignore the problem until there is absolutely no recourse.  Kind of like how everyone seems to think we'll never run out of oil reserves.

Sadly, I've seen people watering their lawns despite the rationing, and there doesn't appear to be any enforcement of that rationing.  I'd also wager that given how green their grass always is; Chesapeak is probably watering every day.  And the city probably gives them a free pass to do so, which would only serve to prove that the rich get to shit on everyone.