The Norman Transcript

June 4, 2014

Norman to choose future water direction

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Water is an abundant, renewable resource — unless you use it more quickly than nature can replenish the supply. Oklahoma has committed to “Water for 2060 ... a goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than is consumed statewide in 2012.”

That aggressive goal will require conservation, reuse and gray water practices, and Norman is poised to lead the way in all three of those areas.

Step 1 for Norman has been the lengthy and thorough process of making a long-term water supply plan. If the planning process revealed anything, it’s that there are no quick and easy answers.

Consider the following limiting factors:

· A recently released report on the Garber Wellington Aquifer indicates that revised withdrawal allowances for current and future wells is likely. The analyses suggest that the pumping rate of two acre-feet per acre per year is not sustainable for more than 41 years if every landowner with a potential well in each acre in the central Oklahoma aquifer exercised the current temporary right to pump at that rate.

· Lake Thunderbird is slowly silting in. In about 50 years, the city will have to address how or if to extend the lake’s natural 100-year life expectancy.

· Federal regulations on Chromium 6 that will affect several of Norman’s existing wells are expected in the near future.

All the while, the city continues to grow.


Conservation key to future: There is a bright spot on the water horizon. Norman residents have reduced the per-capita demand on water with conservation efforts. However, projected water use through 2060 still will increase as population increases, John Rehring, vice president of Carollo Engineers, told interested members of the public at Tuesday’s public meeting on Norman’s 2060 Strategic Water Supply Plan.

For Rehring, whose expert team led Norman through the process, the public meeting was a culmination of ad hoc committee meetings, strategy sessions and research.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather public responses on the two portfolios, which have been determined to hold the answers to Norman’s future water supply issues.

“We’re already a little short on our local supply capacity,” Rehring said.

Part of the problem is peak day demand. During hot and dry summers, Norman water customers use water faster than the city’s facility can treat it some days. That results in emergency purchases of treated water from Oklahoma City.

Lake Thunderbird accounts for about two-thirds of Norman’s drinking water supply. The city’s water wells make up the rest, with purchases from Oklahoma City making up a small portion. But times, they are a changin’ as the song goes, and that means more stress on an aging system, more demand with growth in population and more limits based on regulations and drought.

“We’ve got the potential for future ground water reductions because of water quality standards,“ Rehring said.

The ad hoc committee and Carollo Engineers looked at a variety of source options and eliminated those that were not feasible for Norman. Weighted criteria were used to compare 14 different supply portfolios. Criteria included quality, affordability, long-term reliability, implementation certainty, efficient use of resources and environmental stewardship.

Based on those criteria, the possibilities were narrowed to two potential portfolios of existing and future water supply sources.


Norman’s options: Known as Portfolio 13 and Portfolio 14, these options include many common elements. Both would continue to rely upon Norman’s wells and Lake Thunderbird as primary source components. Both would also aggressively pursue continued conservation and non-potable reuse options.

Portfolio 13 would partner with Oklahoma City to develop a regional water supply, in part through building a water line from Atoka. The capital investment cost is highest in this portfolio and much of the expense comes up front.

Carollo estimates a cost (measured in year 2012 dollars) of $340 million for capital investment and $23 million per year in operation and maintenance.

Portfolio 14 is slightly less costly, requiring an investment of $270 million over time with an annual operation and maintenance cost of $22 million.

Portfolio 14 would develop new groundwater wells and would augment Lake Thunderbird through reuse of Norman’s reclaimed water. The water that currently goes down Norman’s drains would be recycled, receiving a higher level of treatment at the water reclamation facility (once known as the sewer or wastewater plant) and then discharged into Blue Creek, a tributary that leads to Lake Thunderbird.

Nature provides part of the filtering and cleaning process in this type of augmentation known as “indirect potable reuse.” Edmond is also considering IPR in its future supply analysis.

Direct potable reuse may also be available through technology in the future and could eventually be an option. Wastewater is treated to a level that is safe for drinking.

Senate Bill 1187 was recently passed and requires the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to review and evaluate reuse applications in a timely manner. The bill also allows for approval of reused discharges into sensitive water supplies such as Lake Thunderbird, as long as those discharges do not create more pollution in the water body.


The path forward: Norman will soon make a choice between Portfolio 13 and 14 — essentially a choice between partnership with Oklahoma City or moving toward a sustainable water supply through reuse.

There could be some partnership opportunities in the future with the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, as well. Some eastside residents say the tribe wants to sell water to residents on the East side of Norman.

What the 2060 Strategic Water Supply Plan does not deal with is what happens to Lake Thunderbird past 2060. The lake is slowly silting in — a natural and expected process. By 2060, it will be nearing the end of its 100-year life. Augmenting the lake does not change that pattern.

Options could include raising the dam, dredging the lake or building a new reservoir. “We’ll have some tough decisions to make then,” Rehring said.

Joy Hampton




Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.