Danny Matthews and Tom Bolitho
The Ada News
People in Oklahoma understand water has become a priority issue among the many communities, counties, regions and tribes of our state.
Oklahomans agree water is precious. However, how to capture water, distribute it, pay for it and serve the common good are all under debate.
For Ada and the surrounding area, a picture of our water future is fast taking shape. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has recently recommended water rights over the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, which serves Ada and the region, be heavily restricted. Currently, Oklahoma landowners, including the city of Ada, have the right to access annually two acre-feet of water for every one acre of land. An acre-foot of water is equal to 326,000 gallons.
The OWRB has recommended those water rights be reduced by 90 percent. In the future, landowners will be able to access only two-tenths (0.2) of water per acre.
Ada has been blessed over the years. Our city rests very near the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer. Water actually bubbles to the surface at Byrd’s Mill near Fittstown. Ada owns water rights to service the community’s needs and pumps water through pipes to the city.
For a number of years, Ada leaders have discussed how we would face our water future. It has been clear for many years that the water ownership landscape would change.
As part of city planning, a project known as Scissortail Lake has been included in our community’s long-range plan. Scissortail would be located just west of Ada and would encompass a surface area of about 4,700 acres. The lake would be created by flow from Spring Brook Creek and Canadian Little Sandy Creek. The lake would be large enough for recreation, including boating, fishing and swimming. More importantly, Scissortail would provide 29 million gallons of water daily for Ada. The city currently uses about 10 million gallons daily.
The city has invested in a comprehensive study of the Scissortail project, completed by C.H. Guernsey & Company. The study concluded that the Scissortail project had no “fatal flaws,” and that the area under consideration was one of the best in the state for lake construction.
Few lakes have been built since federal funding for such projects ceased in the 1980s. Now, as water becomes scarcer and more expensive, communities and other entities are exploring lake building as an option once again. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was studying the Scissortail project for funding in the 1980s. When funding was curtailed in 1988, the project was halted.
The future water issues for Ada are serious, and they are rapidly approaching. The City must soon make a determination regarding how it plans to provide water for the people of the community for years to come. As the discussion has moved forward, two basic alternatives have arisen.
The first option involves the city purchasing more land and water rights over the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. The cost of that land is not known, but we believe it is obvious it will be valuable. There is only a limited amount of land over the aquifer, and with water rights severely curtailed, water users will have to buy exponentially more property to “keep up.” With access to so little water per acre of land owned, the city would be forced to buy a tremendous amount of property. At what cost? Those who consider additional purchases a viable option do not know. Additionally, the city would have to drill numerous new water wells and provide the infrastructure, power and people to operate and maintain these wells. Once again, the cost has not been quantified.
In the second option, the city could enter into an agreement to build Scissortail Lake. Cost projections for the lake run to about $250 million. That is a substantial sum and one that would be challenging for Ada, by itself, to afford. However, with the daily water yield of the lake about three times the city’s use rate, it is possible the city could contract with other communities and entities that have interests in purchasing the additional water.
Ada is not alone in this scenario. Many communities across the state are working to come up with options for future water supplies. Ada’s advantage is that it has an excellent location for a lake. Communities along the large Oklahoma City-owned water line running from southeast Oklahoma to Oklahoma City could tap into that line for water. However, the price of the tap and the actual water has those communities looking elsewhere. Additionally, the federal lawsuit filed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations – who have historic claims to this area’s natural resources – likely will curtail Oklahoma City’s ability to transfer water from the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations.
The tribes have substantial protected and historic rights to the natural resources of southeastern Oklahoma. Developing a mutually beneficial partnership with the Chickasaw Nation would be a requirement of any water development in our area. Our tribe has a long history of dedication to the common good of all people in our area.
We believe Scissortail Lake has merit. The lake would be expensive. However, we can quantify that cost. The lake would guarantee a visible water supply for Ada, ensure plenty of water access, and provide an exceptional recreation area for our community. There is also the potential to recoup costs through sales of water to other communities.
Our current Ada mayor is absolutely opposed to the Scissortail Lake option. The mayor’s comments and actions leave no doubt that he will propose to purchase huge amounts of additional property over the aquifer to try to “catch up” with the draconian reductions in water rights mandated by the OWRB. There can be no estimate of cost for such a project. We cannot know how much the land will cost, or how many wells would have to be drilled. Without those baseline figures, we cannot calculate the cost of property, wells, associated infrastructure and maintenance. We believe the mayor’s plan is a “blind bet” with no limit on the amount that could be expended.
Let’s take a good look at Scissortail Lake. We have the comprehensive study by C.H. Guernsey & Company, in which the City has invested significant money, time and effort. We believe the facts and the good of the community – not emotions - should rule this discussion. Let’s compare costs, compile the pros and cons, and commit ourselves to serving the common good of the people of Ada and the surrounding area.
We respectfully request you discuss this issue with your City councilman. It’s time to make a good decision – one that will serve our future generations well.
Mr. Matthews and Mr. Bolitho are members of the Scissortail Lake Citizens Advisory Committee.