The Edmond Sun

State News

July 17, 2012

Drought impacts Norman's drinking water

Lake sitting below conservation pool

NORMAN — Sunshine and summer temperatures are creating a drought situation for the second year in a row.

While rains during late fall and early spring brought some relief, the cumulative effect has kept Lake Thunderbird, Norman’s primary water source, below the conservation pool. Groundwater levels in the aquifer also are being affected.

As of Monday afternoon, pool elevation for the lake was 1,035.42, nearly four feet below the normal level for the conservation pool, which is only 80.55 percent full.

It could be worse.

According to data compiled by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey showing statewide tendencies from 1895 through 2010, there have been decade-long dry periods in the past, producing the 1910s, 1930s and the 1950s droughts. Despite drier numbers for the past couple of years, Oklahoma has been in a 30-year pluvial with “wetter-than-previous wet periods.”

“If you were born in the ’70s, you really don’t know what a drought is,” Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.

History is likely to repeat itself, eventually.

“We have to prepare in case of a long-term drought,” Komiske said. “Historically, we’ve had a number of them over the past century.”

New water sources are being sought. The Strategic Water Supply Ad Hoc committee will help prioritize the criteria used to rate potential water sources as Norman embarks on a search to diversify the city’s water supply.

Currently, about 70 percent of Norman’s water comes from Lake Thunderbird, around 28 percent comes from city wells and another 2 percent comes from purchases from Oklahoma City.

“The reason we have to buy Oklahoma City water is we don’t have enough ourselves,” Komiske said.

So far this year, Norman has managed to supply consumer demand without resorting to the purchase of treated water from Oklahoma City — an expensive alternative.

Norman reported the daily average water demand for last week at 20.2 million gallons per day. Scattered rains early in the week knocked the daily demand below the 20 mgd mark for two days.

However, city staff reports that Norman went 15 consecutive days over 20 mgd, with a high of 22.3 mgd. Because of new wells that have come online since last summer, the city has not had to purchase water from Oklahoma City so far this summer, but that could be in the immediate future.

“Our demand continues to increase,” Komiske said. “We would really appreciate if our customers would be a little more conservative on their water use.”

The water line break on Main Street last week probably lost around 200,000 gallons, but those breaks don’t impact the city as much as the cumulative use of Norman consumers.

“They were able to isolate the break pretty quickly,” Komiske said. “Water main breaks happen all the time, and we try to respond as quickly as we can.”

Consumer consumption of water still has the biggest impact, Komiske said.

ACOG drought report: John Harrington, director of Water Resources for the Association of Center Oklahoma Governments reported recently that “spotty summer showers” haven’t stopped drought from returning to Oklahoma.

For the first time since November, Oklahoma is currently into drought conditions, according to the Palmer indices.

The rain has done some positive work, Harrington reports. Stream flow has improved some over the past two weeks, but groundwater levels continue to slowly decline.

Reservoir conditions also are starting their normal decline during the summer. Looking on the bright side, Oklahoma has had only a few days so far where the temperature shot above 100 degrees, Harrington said.

Next strategic water meeting: The next Strategic Water Supply Ad Hoc committee meeting will be noon Aug. 6. This meeting is open to the public.

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