By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A local homeowner’s association wants to drill a private well, transgress the public right of way and bore under public streets to provide irrigation and water for a private swimming pool.
The Cascade Addition Homeowner’s Association wants to install five underground street crossings in the public right of way. The residential subdivision in northwest Norman, south of Tecumseh Road and west of 36th Avenue Northwest, would dig a well to provide irrigation to provide water for its private swimming pool.
HOA President Vince DiCastro said in addition to saving the HOA about $13,000 annually, the private well would allow the HOA to take its swimming pool and irrigation system off of city water, freeing up millions of gallons for other uses.
But the HOA will have to drill 600 to 640 feet to hit water and would tap the same aquifer that supplies Norman’s city water wells. In drought conditions, that could put stress on the water supply, some say.
“We would be following the city’s water restrictions,” DiCastro said.
He said the HOA is aware of the strain the drought is putting on the overall water supply. Currently, with spring rains bringing relief, the HOA is not irrigating in order to conserve, he said.
Private wells were discussed by the Norman City Council Oversight Committee last month. This month, they addressed specifics of the request from Cascade HOA.
City leaders have concerns about private wells but may be limited in how much control they have over private water rights. Oklahoma law recognizes the water rights of property owners and does not allow cities or other governmental entities to forbid the drilling of private wells. The state does, however, put certain limits on wells, and cities may require permits.
Norman has been permitting wells since the 1970s. The drought has made wells more popular and many homeowner’s associations have made inquiries regarding drilling private wells. These wells would be used for non-drinking purposes such as irrigation of a neighborhood’s common areas such as parks or community gardens or, as in the case of Cascade, swimming pools.
Cascade’s situation also is unique because the plan involves drilling under five public streets. Concerns by city council members include what happens if the HOA goes defunct in later years and the streets collapse because of the boring.
According to city staff notes, private sprinkler systems are often installed in the public rights of way without the city’s knowledge. Those systems don’t bore under streets, however. Norman has allowed use of the public right of way in limited circumstances — most commonly through the use of a revocable license. In the case of Fountain View Addition, archways above ground were allowed at the entrance to the addition. Restaurants also have been issued revocable licenses for patios in the rights of way.
In these instances, an annual license fee is required.
“Requests for below-ground encroachments into the right of way to entities other than franchised utilities are rare,” according to city staff notes.
The city council would need to establish a policy to allow HOA’s to locate irrigation systems in the rights of way. Utility providers holding franchise agreements with the city would have to sign off on the permits, city staff said.
Attorney Harold Heiple, who represents the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, was present at Wednesday’s meeting and said he would pass on the information to his client to get a feel for the utility’s response. He suggested other utilities be clued in regarding the ongoing discussion.
Existing city ordinances regarding the permitting of water wells are out of date, Kathryn Walker, assistant city attorney, told city leaders last month. The language needs to be tightened to reflect consistency with state law.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board regulates groundwater use and issues permits for most wells — such as municipal, industrial, agricultural, irrigation and recreation, but OWRB does not permit domestic wells, Walker said.
Cities can regulate and permit the drilling of domestic and industrial water wells within state guidelines. The state defines domestic wells in two categories. A household or family may use a domestic well for household use and for farm and domestic animals or for the irrigation of up to three acres of land to water lawns or gardens.
Non-household entities such as property owner associations or homeowners associations also are domestic up to five acres if the use is not commercial. Uses could include drinking water, restrooms and watering lawns.
OWRB limits how many municipal and commercial wells can be drilled in the aquifer, but it does not limit domestic wells.
OWRB does regulate domestic well construction standards.
The widespread proliferation of private domestic wells could impact the aquifer, city leaders fear. That aquifer makes up about one third of Norman’s water supply — the portion that is obtained by the city’s wells.
Last month, city council members discussed requiring water meters on all new wells to monitor how much water is being used. While state law allows private wells, it limits how much water can be drawn from those wells annually. The law allows for 3 acre feet per year for domestic household wells and 5 acre feet per year for non-household domestic wells.
Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said, depending on the acreage in question, that’s not much water. Meters would help people realize how much water they are using.
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