Water woes 

Lake Thunderbird
credit: Chris Street

Norman, Del City and Midwest City are looking to augment water in Lake Thunderbird, after President Obama last month signed into law the Lake Thunderbird Efficient Use Act. It allows the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District, which manages the lake for the three cities, to purchase raw water from the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust.

“Lake Atoka would be most likely [the source] because it’s most immediately available,” said Neil Engleman, COMCD operations and maintenance specialist.

Norman utilities director Ken Komiske said the required environmental study on whether water is compatible between Thunderbird and Atoka was done about a year ago.

“It’s not like you can put just any water in your lake,” he said. “It has to be compatible with the water and fish and bacteria and algae and microbes. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.”

COMCD executive director Randy Worden has been negotiating with OKC for the raw water.

“He has to get that money from the three cities [to buy the raw water],” Komiske said. “Our fiscal year starts in July, so we can budget for it.”

The conservation pool at Lake Thunderbird was down by 7.5 feet, or 62 percent, by Jan. 31.

The drought has provided a distraction for COMCD being taken on as a new water client of OKC.

“I have been putting them off while I work on the drought,” said OKC utilities director Marsha Slaughter.

The Norman Strategic Water Supply ad hoc committee is considering other options for water supply, such as increasing its supply from some other lakes around the state. About two-thirds of Norman’s water
supply comes from Lake Thunderbird, with the remainder coming from water
wells. During peak demand months of July and August, the city typically
buys treated water from Oklahoma City.

It has hired Carollo Engineers to develop the Norman 2060 Strategic Water Supply Plan, which will propose long-term solutions to water supply, including new sources like the possibility of building a new lake.


Relying on OKC
Norman and 18 other municipal and water district clients buying water from the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust all have been required to implement mandatory restrictions of odd/even water rationing and not doing outside watering on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

COMCD also had asked its water-customer cities to reduce their use by 10 percent.

“There’s no particular strategy right now for further restrictions,” Engleman said. “If we don’t have a good outlook [on the drought], I’m sure [the COMCD board] might require future reductions.”

Slaughter said that
despite the drought, she doesn’t think it will affect sales of water to
the city’s water clients. Most buy water during peak demand periods in
summer, although Warr Acres and the Village buy all their water from
OKC.

“We prefer that you be able to take our service for granted,” she said.

But if the drought continues as expected, there could be increased water restrictions.

“Oklahoma
City conservation and usage are not based on specific reservoir
amounts,” Slaughter said. “The ordinance says that when water supplies
are low, the city manager is authorized to put in more water
restrictions.”

Water
is on the way to Oklahoma City’s primary drinking water reservoir, Lake
Hefner, with 30,000 acre feet en route from Canton Lake in northwest
Oklahoma courtesy of OKC’s request from the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers.

That move has been met with controversy.

“Not
only are the people of western Oklahoma going to suffer,” said state
Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, “but when the dog days of summer are
here and the drought is even worse, citizens in Oklahoma City are going
to be impacted as well because of a failure to adopt a pro-active water
conservation plan.


Water conservation
Komiske
said Norman citizens have been responsive when asked to conserve water
in past years, including implementing techniques like rainwater
harvesting to maintain gardens in dry periods. The city has given away
more than 700 rain barrels and sponsored rain barrel workshops thanks to
the city’s Environmental Control Advisory Board and the Cleveland
County Conservation District.

“There’s no bad side to [rainwater harvesting],” Komiske said.

Slaughter
said OKC is partnering with Oklahoma State University’s extension
center to help promote best water practices, like maximizing available
water and planting drought-resistant plants and trees.

“We’re
really talking about outdoor water use,” Slaughter said. “When there is
more evaporation, we all want to water our yards more ... [but] people
are watering Bermuda grass. That’s just not wise.”

Slaughter said the city will post water-conservation tips online at squeezeeverydrop.com.

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