NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma City has its own water shortage problems these days. For Norman and the conservators of Lake Thunderbird, that means OKC has no water to sell.
No one’s surprised, given the recent news that low levels at Lake Hefner have put the boating season on the skids and draws by OKC on Canton Lake could cause fishkills.
Still, with the drought entering its third year, officials hoped to purchase raw water from the Atoka line to augment Lake Thunderbird.
The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District, which manages Thunderbird, learned recently that no water is currently available from Oklahoma City’s Atoka line, which runs near the east Norman lake.
Members of Oklahoma’s Washington delegation, in particular Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, were successful in passing a bill to allow COMCD to bring in outside water to Lake Thunderbird.
Oklahoma lawmakers had tried to get some form of that bill through in previous years and didn’t succeed until last session. The victory may have come a year too late to help Thunderbird and Norman through the current drought.
District Manager Randy Worden said COMCD is moving forward with plans to tap the Atoka line, but OKC has said it cannot sell water to augment Thunderbird.
“They don’t have any (water) to give us at this time,” Worden said. “That’s their system, they need to take care of their customers first, and I certainly understand that.”
Worden said COMCD will focus on conservation and reuse.
“That will be several years away,” Worden said of using reclaimed wastewater to augment lake levels. “We’re preceding on with reuse, but that’s a slow process.”
The Atoka tap will take some time as well.
“We have to execute a contract with Oklahoma City and I have to hire an engineer to design the facilities and submit those to Oklahoma City for approval,” he said. “Once that’s done, we’ll hire a contractor to make the connection.”
According to the National Weather Service, Norman received less than an inch of precipitation on Monday.
“We’re thankful for all we get, but it won’t have much effect on the lake level,” Worden said.
The lake level remains down nearly 8 feet below the conservation pool, which is about 62 percent full.
COMCD in January asked its water customers — Norman, Del City and Midwest City — to reduce allotments by 10 percent. Norman has instituted mandatory water conservation, including even-odd watering as a result, but the cool winter months are not high-use times. Usage in winter runs nearly one-third of high-usage marks in the summer heat. The coming summer is the greatest concern for city leaders.
“There’s no question that the most important near-term strategy we as a community need to embrace is stricter conservation,” Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said. “We will be looking at all possible means of communicating the importance of conservation to our customers.”
The city has asked the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to allow it to use reclaimed water from the wastewater treatment plant on the city’s compost. Reclaimed water is higher in nitrogen than drinking water, which is an added bonus to the gallons of drinking water that would be saved. The city already uses reclaimed water for foam suppression, washing weirs and lubricating pump seals at the sewer treatment plant.
“That saves us about 13 million gallons a month,” Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.
“The city is aggressively looking at ways to get our operations off the potable water supply,” Rosenthal said. “We’ve had successes already, but we’re going to have to double-down and do even more.”
DEQ has responded to the city’s request to use reclaimed water on the city compost. The agency sent six questions to the city and also included some suggestions.
“We’ll submit the answer along with a formal application,” Komiske said.
Norman is also negotiating with Del City to purchase part of that city’s allocation from Lake Thunderbird.
“Our attorneys are working with Del City attorneys on that. We do have a draft contract with Del City, and the council is expected to discuss it next Tuesday,” Komiske said. That discussion is slated for a non-voting city council study session.
While a contract with Del City could help support Norman’s annual usage from the lake, it will not provide daily emergency water when usage peaks. Emergency water has been supplied by OKC in the past. That water is already treated.
“When demand exceeds our treatment capacity, we buy water from Oklahoma City,” Komiske said.
If OKC is unable to supply Norman with emergency water this summer, residents will face more conservation restrictions. Exceeding capacity would create low water pressure, Komiske said.