By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Lake Thunderbird is a foot above the conservation pool for the first time in three years and Cleveland County is coming off a boatload of rain and violent spring weather. Local municipalities have ended mandatory water conservation measures and though temperatures are up, we haven’t hit 100 degrees yet.
“Is the drought over? When we get a storm that dumps 8-plus inches of rain, that could convince one that the pendulum is swinging the other way,” said John Harrington, director of Water Resources for the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.
Harrington warns that a closer look reveals periods of drought often have brief periods of relief.
The drought may or may not be over for central Oklahoma. The massive doses of rain that got us back to normal can evaporate very quickly in summer heat.
“Many drought cycles have years where there is plenty of rain — note 1915 or 1937 — but often that comes in ‘flashy’ events — lots of water in a short time that hits the ground, causes flooding, and then goes to Arkansas,” Harrington said. “Two weeks after the event there is scant evidence that the rain ever happened.”
Well, except for the highest lake levels Thunderbird has seen in years. Even more encouraging, the outlook for next week promises more rain.
“We do have some rain in the forecast for the coming week,” Matthew Day, National Weather Service meteorologist, said. “We’ve actually got a 20 to 40 percent chance of rain through Wednesday.”
Still, Harrington’s warning that the drought may not be over is one to be heeded. Western Oklahoma’s drought continues despite relief in the eastern and central portions of the state, and the three-month outlook for central Oklahoma could be either above or below normal precipitation, Day said.
“Voluntary water conservation is always appreciated,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “All of our equipment is geared up for summer demand, but we still like to keep the peak days lower because it’s those peak days that stress the system. It’s on the peak days that we have to buy water from Oklahoma City.”
The annual budget for purchasing outside water is about $400,000 per year, Komiske said. The last two years, Norman has used or exceeded that amount. Cutting back on that expense would help keep water rates low.