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City planners have long understood that without water, there are no cities.
And while representatives from the metro’s three largest cities say there’s plenty of water to go around for now, the future concerns them.
Oklahoma City has built four water supply lakes to keep pace with growth dating back to Lake Overholser (1918), Lake Hefner (1947), and Draper and Atoka lakes (1964).
Debbie Ragan, public information and marketing manager for the city of Oklahoma City’s utilities department, says the city also has drawn from Lake Canton in northwestern Oklahoma since 1955 and McGree Creek Lake in southeastern Oklahoma.
“These water reservoirs continue to supply Oklahoma City and other communities with a dependable, ample supply of water,” Ragan says. “However, we’ve known for decades that our current water supply could reach capacity by 2030.”
Oklahoma City’s three water treatment plants deliver about 100 million gallons of tap water a day to more than 500,000 citizens, and sells treated water to other communities and water districts.
Ragan says the city has eyed Sardis Lake as a potential source since it was built by the federal government in 1983 in southeastern Oklahoma.
Legal battles may be looming with the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, which are attempting to assert partial ownership rights in Sardis Lake based on treaties signed with the federal government dating back to the 1800s.
Ragan says a raw water supply study completed in 2009 determined Central Oklahoma will reach its water supply capacity by 2030, and water demand will be about 316 million gallons a day by 2060.
In June 2010, the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust acquired a water storage contract for 136,000 acre feet of water in Sardis Lake. The next step is to get a water use permit for the source.
“With the additional water supply, we will be able to provide water to about one-third of Oklahomans for the next 60 years,” Ragan says. “That may sound like a long way away. But you don’t start planning and building infrastructure for water when you need it.”
Edmond draws water from two primary sources, surface water from Lake Arcadia and from 56 wells tapped into the Garber-Wellington aquifer. The city also has a contract to purchase up to 15 million gallons per day from Oklahoma City during peak times.
“We’ve done a number of studies in the recent past … to help set the table,” says Fred Rice, Edmond’s water resources superintendent. “We’re planning in the next fiscal year to do a new water master plan. Right now, the picture is very bright for us for the next 20-30 years. In our 50-year plan, we identified a potential cap that could possibly exist in the 30-year horizon … but we’re working to fill that gap.”
Edmond is one of 13 entities that came together in 2007 to commission a study looking into the issue of purchasing water storage rights and raw water from Sardis Lake.
Along with Edmond, Chickasha, Del City, Edmond, Goldsby, Midwest City, Moore, Mustang, Norman, Oklahoma City, Seminole, Shawnee and the Central Oklahoma Water Resource Authority representing Canadian County communities, formed the group.
For Norman, the subject of water is more about quality than quantity.
John Woods, president and CEO at the Norman Chamber of Commerce, says the topic has raised a few eyebrows in his city.
Last December, an independent study of 35 cities nationwide showed Norman had the highest amounts of hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6. Within 72 hours of the report, the EPA announced it was looking into tighter restrictions on the amount of chromium-6 in public drinking supplies. Chromium-6 is a known carcinogen, and has been found in the Garber-Wellington aquifer from which Norman receives much of its water supply. The city also brings in surface water from Lake Thunderbird, as well as treated water from Oklahoma City during high-demand summer months.
In 2006, the city was forced to shut down 14 of its wells and decrease production by 50% after the EPA lowered the acceptable limits of arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element in the Garber-Wellington aquifer.
Woods says Norman has the water it needs for the future, but has to find cost-effective ways to remove the trace elements, on which the EPA has continued to focus.
“The abundance of the supply is not as big of an issue for us as it is for Oklahoma City,” Woods says. “We’re … (making) sure our quality is there and our supply is there. I don’t think it’s going to be as pre-eminent of a concern for us as the cities to the north because of our access to Lake Thunderbird.”Fred Rice, Edmond’s water resources superintendent, says the city is developing a new water master plan during the next fiscal year.