By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
You open the tap and water comes rushing out into the glass, with bubbles sparkling in the light.
That cool, quenching drink of water is taken for granted by most of us. But a drought that has gripped the area for two years, and the accompanying water rationing last summer, brought the subject to the attention of many Enid residents. City Manager Eric Benson and engineer Murali Katta discussed the city water situation this week.
“There is concern about water based on the drought. But, the atmosphere and drought are beyond our control,” Benson said.
A challenge the city faces is its ability to deliver water to meet demand. Last summer, demand exceeded expectations, and Benson said the job of the city is to be certain everyone has core services.
Benson said Enid has received 25 percent less rain this year than last year, and the same is anticipated in 2013.
“Next year, we anticipate the same giant demand. We must keep demand at a manageable level,” he said.
“When you have a drought and high temperatures, people want to sprinkle 24-seven.”
Benson said Enid has some large industrial customers who use a lot of water. All prosperous communities have those customers, he said, and need them. When a community is examined by an industry, the ability to deliver water is among the things examined. The city has an obligation to industrial customers.
Benson said there are three areas the city must focus on: The amount of water the city can supply, the amount it can draw and the amount it must continue to acquire for the future.
The city’s current pumping capacity is 21 million gallons per day. Due to the drought last summer, demand was just over 20 million gallons per day, Benson said. The city constantly acquires more water rights and installs wells.
“We’ve acquired more water rights in the last three years than we have in the previous 15 years,” Benson said.
The process is to find the water, mine it and deliver it, which is more difficult than it sounds, he said. The city uses a number of technologies to complete that process, but Benson and Katta said the city is exploring a new type of technology that will allow it to obtain more water at a lower cost.
The process is horizontal drilling, similar to the horizontal process used in the oilfield, Benson said. Currently, several wells are drilled in a reservoir, and water is brought into the pipeline by vertical wells. The new technology would drill one well in the center of a mile formation, and send satellite stems horizontally to drill into a number of strata. Katta said there is an 18-foot hole established and the well is dug inside that hole.
The city’s water infrastructure is old and must be carefully used.
Recently, the city had to deal with 10 breaks in a 20-inch water line that serves part of east Enid, Koch Nitrogen and the town of Covington. Those breaks have an impact on the city’s water customers, and Benson said additional problems probably will occur.
In the next budget cycle, city officials plan to begin replacing some of the water infrastructure. They are testing pipes, using sensors that are sent through the pipe and send back reports of weaknesses and cracks. The aging infrastructure will break if pressure is not constant, Benson said.
Enid currently has two water holding stations that hold the daily amount used. Last year, those stations daily dropped to within a few feet.
“If there is any interruption, we can’t meet it (demand),” he said.
Two water towers now being built will provide four hours of use, and will lower pressure to acceptable levels. That is important because water pressure may differ from one side of town to another, Benson said. The water towers will be the first step toward equalizing pressure, and taking pressure off the system.
“Water towers are shock absorbers and manage pressure. They take the peaks out of the system,” Benson said.
A 2004 water study shows limited aquifer space, which will not continue to support the city if current technology is used. Access to other areas is necessary. Benson said the city must go where the water is and use newer technology.
Current wellfields draw water from about one-eighth of a mile, or approximately 200 yards. In the future, the city will drill one well with horizontal capability, and get more water by penetrating additional strata within an aquifer. The process will allow the city to draw from several vertical strata, plus a number of horizontal collector strata providing access to a new wellfield, Bensons said.
“We will go from a capacity of about 200 gallons per minute — which is considered great — to about 500 gallons per minute, and will have only one line,” Benson said.
One necessity is to expand the reach for water and obtain new water rights. Benson said that is being done, and those water rights are expensive. In the future — about 2017 or 2018 — the city will have repaid all of its water bonds, which will leave about $10 million a year available for water projects. City leadership at that time will have to determine those new issues, Benson said.
In the meantime, the city is studying its options and establishing strategic visions. The 2004 water study gave insight and pointed toward areas to investigate in the future. Benson said the city must expand its infrastructure, and possibly create another water source to provide for Enid’s needs for the next 100 years.
Benson favors exploring a lake, covering probably 9,000 acre-feet of water. He said the study shows where the water is and how to improve collections, and to know how wastewater can be recycled.
Some 12 million gallons of treated water a day are discharged from Koch Nitrogen’s plant east of the city. That water may not be potable quality, but it is good for many other uses, including other industrial uses or for discharge into a lake, Benson said.
“We can find ways to scrub that water and reuse it. Recycling, we could use it for industry,” Benson said. “In 10 to 15 years, water will be so valuable, it will be necessary to do so.”