theadanews.com - Ada, Oklahoma

February 1, 2013

Norman looks toward Atoka Pipeline as water worries mount in OKC

Joy Hampton CNHI News Service
The Ada News

Norman —  

Oklahoma City began drawing  an additional 30,000 acre-feet of water from Canton Lake on Wednesday to boost Lake Hefner’s water supply. Canton’s full water supply is under contract to OKC. As the drought continues, OKC water could play an important role in Norman’s water supply as well. Negotiations to tap into the Atoka Pipeline in southeastern Oklahoma are under way, officials said

“It’s a concern because we’re on an emergency basis with Oklahoma City water and it’s an availability type rate,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “If they have water, they’re happy to sell it to us.” 

But Norman’s contract does not ensure water will be delivered. Year-round water customers will get OKC water first. 

“We’ve been meeting with them and talking to them,” Komiske said. “They want to provide water when they can.”

Last fiscal year, Norman purchased 147 million gallons of water from Oklahoma City. Those purchases span portions of the previous two summers because the fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30, Komiske said.

Because Norman brought more wells online, summer 2012 resulted in fewer purchases from OKC than in 2011.

Norman is already on mandatory water conservation because of low levels at Lake Thunderbird, the city’s primary water source. Recently, the Central Master Conservancy District asked Norman and its other municipal customers, Del City and Midwest City, to reduce allotments from Thunderbird by 10 percent.

Thunderbird’s conservation pool is seven-and-a-half feet low — 62 percent full. Canton’s conservation pool is 39 percent full.

COMCD, which manages Thunderbird, is negotiating to tap OKC’s Atoka line. That line brings raw water to OKC from southeast Oklahoma and is more expensive for OKC than using water from Canton Lake.

If COMCD can purchase raw water from the Atoka line to supplement Thunderbird, it will help ensure Norman’s base water supply. Norman is also discussing the possibility of leasing a portion of Del City’s Thunderbird allotment. 

“Del City has never used its full allocation from Thunderbird,” Komiske said. “They have wells.”

Conservation is key, and Komiske said Norman customers are helping make a difference.

“Two weeks in a row, we’ve used less water than we did last year at this time,” Komiske said. 

If emergency water is not available from Oklahoma City, this summer will be difficult.

“Our conservation plan has another stage that is available,” Komiske said. “We can go into Stage 3.”

There are no immediate plans for new wells. 

“We’re just trying to keep the ones we have going,” he said. “We’re hoping for the best. We’ll try to keep everybody informed.”

Canton Lake is about 75 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The lake is home to a variety of fish and has become the primary source of walleye eggs for incubation and stocking of other Oklahoma lakes. Since 1968, an annual Walleye Rodeo in May has been an economic boon for the area.

State Sen. Bryce Marlatt and Rep. Mike Sanders were critical of OKC for the water transfer.

“This should have been a last-ditch option for Oklahoma City, but the gates are open and the water is flowing out of Canton Lake right now,” Marlatt said. “Not only are the people of western Oklahoma going to suffer, 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.”

“Where has Oklahoma City been the last three years during this drought? Where is their water conservation plan? Lawns are still being watered in dead of winter. It makes no sense at all,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Failure of water management planning got them to this point. It was ill-advised to use reserve water first, rather than a monitored draw-down of two-thirds (of) full Lake Hefner.”

The rainfall Tuesday may have triggered the draw because the North Canadian River bed had been so dry, a large portion of the water would have been absorbed. The rain meant more Canton Lake water would make it to Lake Hefner. 

“This is a regional drought,” Komiske said. “Everyone’s feeling the pinch.”

Among the solutions proposed to augment Thunderbird is a plan to discharge reclaimed wastewater into a Thunderbird tributary. That will require permitting by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, however, and approval could be years down the road.