The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 19, 2012

Norman facing water conservation measures

By Joy Hampton
Norman Transcript / CNHI News Service

NORMAN, Okla. — Norman is facing water conservation measures as early as January, according to Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District Executive Director Randy Worden. COMCD is the guardian of the water quality and supply in Lake Thunderbird.

Worden told the Norman City Council that his board will send out a letter after Christmas asking its three municipal water customers — Midwest City, Del City and Norman — to reduce usage of the lake water supply by 10 percent.

“As you know, we’ve been in this drought for about two-and-a-half years,” Worden said. “Right now, Del City and Midwest City have adequate groundwater supplies to meet any reduction in Lake Thunderbird, so they’re in pretty good shape, but Norman is in the worst shape from a water supply perspective.”

If COMCD requests a 10 percent reduction, it will affect what Norman withdraws from the lake.

“Residents will be asked to conserve,” Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.

Worden said discussions with the national weather service indicates that “they believe this drought will continue.”

“We’re in exceptional drought,” Worden said. “Everyone knows it’s serious.”

Ground saturation indicates that the 4- to 16-inch soil depth, which supports landscaping and grass, is very dry. Deeper levels are being affected as well.

“It’s starting to get into the 32-inch level that affects big trees,” Worden said.

Future forecasts indicate little relief in sight.

“They anticipate a drier-than-normal spring, which does not bode well for the lake and our water supply,” Worden said.

While the modeling is not conclusive, Worden said weather experts say the drought could last for an extended period of two or three more years.

“We are near record lows in the lake, and — in anticipation of extended drought — we will be asking the cities to use conservation measures,” he said.

Legislation that would allow relief from outside water sources passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but has been held up in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, is carrying that bill, but politics has it stuck in committee and hope is dwindling for getting it passed this legislative session, despite bipartisan support.

The bill would allow COMCD to import and store water from other sources into Lake Thunderbird. If it doesn’t get passed this year, supporters of the bill will have to start over.

“It’s critical that we get this legislation approved,” Worden said.

A reuse study commissioned by COMCD looked at five options for using wastewater effluent treated to a higher standard to be put back into Lake Thunderbird, either directly or indirectly, through a tributary. The study also looked at non-reuse options as a means of comparison.

Reuse of discharge effluent is more economical and does not require the legislation be passed to allow it. However, there are hurdles to cross with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality if that route is to become viable.

“This could be the first project under the new reuse regulations that DEQ would address,” Worden said. “That water is there every day. Everybody flushes.”

The non-reuse sources of water looked at in the study — including sources from southeast Oklahoma, Kaw Lake, Scissortail Lake or Parker Reservoir — would require federal lawmakers to pass the legislation to allow COMCD to use and store that water.

Of those options, Scissortail was least expensive, with Parker coming in second. However, Worden said Parker likely would have fewer issues with tribal concerns and endangered species than the Scissortail option.

“Conservation, quite frankly, is the least costly of all the options,” Worden said. “It will mean a reduction in irrigation. If things continue as they are right now, we will reach our record low in February and exceed it. It doesn’t bode well for this summer.”

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Hampton writes for Norman Transcript.