The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 9, 2013

Water release: OKC plans to take from Canton Lake

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

CANTON — — A standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night expressed concerns  over a plan to release water from Canton Lake to Oklahoma City.

Kathy Carlson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake manager, told the group the lake was built for flood control, water supply and irrigation. Later, secondary purposes were included that added wildlife habitat and recreation. At the time, 38,000 acre feet of water were allotted to Enid, and 38,000 acre feet put into an irrigation district. In 1990, Enid relinquished storage of water to Oklahoma City, Carlson said. The Corps of Engineers stores the water, and Oklahoma City pays the Corps $200,000 a year, which covers about 25 percent of the costs.

Currently, the lake is more than 9 feet lower than the normal pool level. Normal level is 15.4 feet, and the current level is 6.06 feet, Carlson said. Oklahoma City officials have announced they will take 30,000 acre feet from the lake to use as drinking water. Carlson said when Oklahoma City asks for the water, it will be released from one sluice gate and will take two weeks to get to Oklahoma City.

“The drought pervades everything in western Oklahoma. We plan to take advantage of the low water to do some things at the lake that need to be done,” Carlson said.

Among those jobs will be work on the boat ramps, she said.

Oklahoma City has not yet called for the release. One person in the audience asked what good the water will do Oklahoma City, if withdrawing it pollutes the lake and they can’t use it again. Carlson also told the angry crowd the contract does not address what Oklahoma City does with the water.

Carlson told the audience Oklahoma City not only has a contract for the water, but that contract is congressionally mandated. The contract would be terminated, she said, when the lake no longer exists or when the water level falls to the inactive pool. There are problems at other Corps lakes in Oklahoma as well, she said. Eufaula is dry, people using Lake Texhoma are concerned about the city of Dallas taking water from it, and there is a legal case involving Lake Sardis over what rights Indian tribes have to the water.

Representatives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes were present at the meeting, Gov. Janice Prairie Chief Boswell and Lt. Gov. Amber Bighorse were present, along with attorney Richard Grellner, who represents the tribe. Grellner said the tribes have 100,000 acres of land and would be willing to use water from its subsurface acquifer from that land as a bridge to refill the lake until a solution could be found.

John Stahl, regional fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, predicted if the lake level falls any more, a fish kill will result and algae formations could occur. Currently, the lake has some deep spots of 30 feet or more, but if the water level is drawn down to the predicted level, those deep spots would not exist, Stahl said.

The proposed release would drop the water level in the lake to just over 6 feet, which in June, July and August will result in a fish kill, he said. Stahl said Canton Lake is windswept, and that, coupled with low levels and the summer heat, could remove oxygen from the water, resulting in the death of the fish.

“If we crash, it will take five years to get the fisheries again,” he said.

Stahl said the water level at Fort Supply Lake also is low, but because it is a smaller lake it will heal quicker. Stahl also mentioned the loss of waterfowl usage. He estimated the wildlife department has put millions of dollars into the lake.

Grellner also suggested a discussion between all parties involved in the issue to see if an agreement could be reached.

Tuesday afternoon, Debbie Ragan, of Oklahoma City Utilities Department, said Oklahoma City has put off taking the water as long as possible. Ragan said the condition of the lake is a consideration, and Oklahoma City officials have talked to the Corps of Engineers about it. Ragan said Oklahoma City promotes water conservation on a voluntary basis.

“We always encourage wise water use, especially in the summer, using drought-resistant plants. We are aware of the problem, and it is a last resort. Canton is a federal lake, but for water supply, flood control and irrigation,” Ragan said.