ADA — Recent rainfall in the Ada area has ponds, creeks and rivers at their highest levels in months. While the last thing on many residents’ minds is drought, officials warn that it will take a lot more precipitation to get things back to normal.

Even with the soggy weather, water levels of Oklahoma’s major underground aquifers have not risen much — especially the Arbuckle-Simpson, which supplies water to Ada and several communities in south-central Oklahoma. Water levels there, in fact, have been declining for decades. But every little drop helps.

Ada has received more than 12 inches of rain since April 1, according to numbers provided by the local National Weather Service observer. That compares to about 6 inches recorded during the same period in 2006.

Along with the rainfall, a series of powerful thunderstorms raked Enid and other parts of northern Oklahoma Friday, uprooting trees, destroying buildings and causing power outages.

Officials said the damage — caused by what appeared to be gale-force, straight-line winds — was at least $1.5 million, probably more. More than 9,000 residents in the northern half of the state were without power, according to the Associated Press.

Heavy spring rains in recent weeks have had only minimal impact, said Oklahoma Water Resources Board spokesman Brian Vance, who said state officials are considering changing the way water is allocated.

“Shallower aquifers under rivers and streams will see some noticeable improvement from the rainfall, but deeper aquifers respond so slowly to wetness you’re not going to see any immediate impact,” Vance said. “Those aquifers, they just didn’t appear overnight. They pooled over many thousands of years and recharge happens very slowly.”

The water resources board has been conducting public meetings in recent months, seeking input as it drafts new water-allocation policies that could be in place by 2011.

Vance said the board is considering changes in the way it calculates how much water each user can take, based on the number of wells pulling from a single source. He said current laws are based on an assumption that users would drain an aquifer within 20 years.

Groundwater advocates believe that assumption is shortsighted and that changes must be made.

Vance said Oklahoma rainfall develops in cycles. Currently, the region is suffering through a dry cycle after a very wet period in the late 1990s. The wet and dry patterns in the state during the past century are well documented.

“During much of the 1980s and 1990s, the state in general experienced an unprecedented wet spell,” he said. “More recently, it has been drier, as has happened many, many times throughout recorded history.”

Duane Smith, OWRB executive director, said earlier this spring that statewide drought has drastically reduced river flows and lake and aquifer levels, causing severe impacts to domestic and municipal water supplies and significantly reducing the amount of water available for other purposes.

He said declines in groundwater levels are common during times of drought.

“These declines often impact domestic well-users first, because their wells are typically not drilled to the total saturated thickness depth of the aquifer,” Smith said. “As the density of domestic wells increases in a particular area, and those wells become stressed trying to meet peak demands, declining aquifer levels become more prevalent.”

If measures, water experts warn, hadn’t been taken after the Dust Bowl 1930s, Oklahoma could be facing the same sort of drought conditions that dominated during the Depression.

It’s not going to meet the state future water needs. Oklahoma's water and wastewater facilities will require about $5.4 billion in rehabilitation and new construction to keep up with demand, and that's just through 2025, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Vance said a study by the board has indicated the critical reduction of water in Oklahoma’s major aquifers during the last five years. The Garber-Wellington Aquifer, which lies under Oklahoma City, plunged more than six feet from 2001 to 2006. The Rush Springs Aquifer in western Oklahoma and the Antlers Aquifer in far southeastern Oklahoma have dropped more than three feet during the same period, while the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer in south-central Oklahoma — the lifeblood of Ada — has fallen more than 21 feet.

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind the drought has had an effect, but you would think it would be across the board,” said Floy Parkhill, the former president of Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.

The group’s current president, Bob Donaho, said the aquifer is recharged only by precipitation, making it more susceptible to dry conditions.

“We have to start trying to educate our legislators and our government and our citizens we can’t keep doing the same things as we have been doing in the past,” Donaho said.

“We’ve got the same amount of water on the planet as when there were 100,000 of us and now there are 8 or 9 billion. What’s going to happen is going to be unpleasant for a lot of people.”

Donaho and his group has led the fight to prevent the sale of millions of gallons of Arbuckle-Simpson water by landowners to a central-Oklahoma group. That sale has been delayed until a comprehensive water study has been completed.

Most agree that while the recent rainfall certainly didn’t hurt, the precipitation will not turn around a process that’s been decades, even centuries, in the making.

In an attempt to meet future water demands, Ada City Council is studying the feasibility of a lake to provide surface water.

“While some of the shallower aquifers beneath streams and rivers will see noticeable improvement from the recent rainfall, deeper ones like the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, respond so slowly that there will not be an immediate impact,” said Brian Vance, Oklahoma Water Resources Board spokesman. “The Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer didn’t form overnight. It pooled over many thousands of years and recharge happens very slowly.”

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