Years of drought for Northwest Oklahoma did not impact Kaw Lake, where water levels remained at 100 percent or greater.
"If you'll look at the levels of the lakes in western Oklahoma over the past four or five years, I mean Canton Lake was down — for obvious reasons, besides just the drought — but it never came back. Fort Cobb down, Tom Steed down. All of them," city of Enid Director of Engineering Chris Gdanski said.
Gdanski said Kaw Lake has a very large drainage basin.
"Cost-wise, we kind of see Kaw Lake and building lakes pretty much the same, in the same ballpark," he said, adding a study found the biggest problem with building a lake is local rainfall is not sufficient to quickly fill it. "You invest the money, you build a lake and then you've got to wait for it to fill up. That's when we started to realize that 70 miles of pipeline is expensive — yes, we completely understand that — but the Kaw Lake water level stays above 95 percent and has for decades. It has been very stable."
Studies find pipeline 'best option'
Multiple studies have been performed, in an effort to secure the future of water for the next 50 years, City Manager Jerald Gilbert said.
"Out of all that analysis, from at least two different studies that I'm aware of — Guernsey and Garver's work — the Kaw Lake pipeline has been the best option," he said.
A study was done to secure groundwater in the 1980s, and the Ringwood and Cleo Springs well fields were purchased, Gdanski said.
"At that time, agriculture's demand on the aquifer in this area was very small. Nobody irrigated, and livestock wasn't as prevalent. It was mostly wheat at the time," he said.
As the demand on the aquifer has increased, a water master plan by Guernsey looked into groundwater, building a lake and constructing a pipeline, Gdanski said.
The water master plan was presented to the Enid City Commission in 2014. A pipeline from Kaw Lake was determined to be the next step, and the 12-month preliminary engineering just wrapped up, he said.
On Aug. 23, voters will consider a new three-quarter percent sales tax, and the extension of an existing one-quarter percent sales tax, to fund the project.
"I do not get to vote on this issue, but, obviously, I spend my money in Enid ... so I'm going to pay the sales tax just like everybody else does," Campaign Chairman Ernie Currier, a former city commissioner and mayor who now lives outside of city limits, said. "The reason I'm involved is I see the need. A few months ago, most of these guys that I talk to can tell you that I was a cynic. I did not see the facts and see the need, at that point in time, because when I was on the commission it seemed like we had plenty of water.
"After attending these meetings, seeing the diagrams, talking to these folks who are out in it every day — that are actually working these wells, and trying to produce enough water for us to use — it's obvious to me that we need to do something for our future."
If passed, each family — at the median income level — will see an increase of $60 in sales tax per year, he said.
Diversifying water sources
Data shows water depths continue to go down in the well fields.
"We know that as we use the well field more, we're going to run into a nitrate problem," Gdanski said. "That requires that you have to diversify just a little bit because if we got into a serious drought, it would be rather painful, I think."
According to graph showing well water levels between 2000 — before the drought — and 2015, every well field has declined, Currier said.
"There's too many things that could happen to a single source of anything. Water especially — I mean, it's our lifeblood," he said.
With an alternate water source, the city can reduce its demand on the aquifer so it will last longer for the agriculture community, ranchers and the oil and gas industry, Gdanski said.
"The well fields are always going to be part of our strategy," Gilbert said, adding city officials do not think — due to studies and the declining aquifers — the well fields are a long-term, viable, sole-source solution for the city of Enid.
Currier said the Ames well field is basically the number one well field, with good wells and water.
In 2000, the top of the water was 17 to 18 feet below the top of the Ames wells, he said. In 2015, it was 33 feet below the top.
"Even though this trend may not look that alarming because it's a lot of years, when you consider it's gone down that many feet and our wells vary ... from 55 foot to 80-85 (feet). You can see that another 17 feet down in 15 years, how many years do we have left? And there's a point where you have to quit pumping anyway, even though there may still be water there, you still have to quit pumping because you start stirring mud and everything else up down in there and you can't use it. It's just one of those issues that we just have to do something to make sure we have water," Currier said.
When power went out with storms this past winter, residents had to conserve water, Gdanski said. There will be water storage with the pipeline.
"Power's going to be an issue at any point because our pumping stations have to have power, but we'll, obviously, have generators," Currier said. "We can't put a generator on every well. That's why on wells we have to still conserve, whereas one generator on our pumping station helps us a great deal."
A five- to seven-year project, the city is about a year into studies, and at least two years away from beginning pipeline construction, Gilbert said.
With a price tag of around $360 million, the project will include the pipeline, pump stations, storage areas, a water treatment plant and intake structures.
The pipeline is the biggest cost-driver for the project, but the city has to get the water out of the lake, get it to Enid, treat it, blend it with the groundwater and integrate it into the current system, Gdanski said. Terminal storage reservoirs — equalization and emergency — is how the city will optimize pumping and protect for potential pipeline or intake issues.
"We store a little extra water here, and we always have the well field, which really makes for a nice combination," he said.
Enid gave up water rights to Kaw Lake, for financial reasons, in the late 1990s to early 2000s, Gilbert said.
"It's my understanding it was a cost-cutting move. We also, at that time, were feeling good about the well fields, but I think it was costs that drove it," Gilbert said.
It was easy to get the rights back, with a nominal permit fee, Gdanski said. The city has to enter into a storage contract — at a one-time price of around $4.5 to $5 million — with the Corps of Engineers. There will also be an annual operations and maintenance cost between $100,000 to $200,000.
One water treatment facility will be located at the pump station on Oakwood, and it will be where the flows from the water wells and the surface water are combined, Public Utilities Director Louis Mintz said.
Mintz said the lake water has been tested, as city officials looked to see what the water would do to the water distribution system — so something incompatible is not introduced into the system.
Other communities to have water
Kaw Lake is the primary water source for Stillwater, Gilbert said.
Ponca City has rights to the lake, but is not withdrawing, and there are a couple of other entities with rights, Gdanski said.
More than 30 percent of the water is unallocated, after the city of Enid takes 9 percent.
Currier noted a portion of the water rights will not be sold, so the lake maintains its water level.
There has been some interest from other communities about tying into Enid's pipeline. Gdanski said he has met with just about every community, rural water district and Indian tribe.
Currently, Fairmont, Covington, Douglas, Waukomis, Drummond, Perry Acres, Spring Valley Ranch, North Enid, Lahoma and Garfield Water District No. 7 get water from Enid, Water Production Superintendent Bruce Boyd said. Meno may receive water if there's an emergency, and Garber will soon receive water from Enid. All of the communities will continue to receive water with the pipeline.