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March 7, 2013

Private wells not a solution for Norman water shortage

NORMAN — Private wells are not the answer to Norman’s water quantity or quality issues, city leaders said this week as the Norman City Council Oversight Committee discussed permitting.

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, city sources said, but with the drought heightening awareness of possible water shortages in the coming summer months, many property owners 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.

Existing city ordinances regarding the permitting of water wells is out of date, said Kathryn Walker, assistant city attorney. The language needs to be tightened to reflect consistency with state law.

In addition, the city council can include a few protective requirements.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board regulates groundwater use and issues permits for most wells — such as municipal, industrial, agricultural, irrigation and recreation, Walker said. However, OWRB does not permit domestic wells.

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.

More acreage than that becomes agricultural.

Non-household entities such as property owner associations or homeowners associations are also domestic up to five acres if the use is not commercial, Walker said.

Those uses could include drinking water, restrooms and watering lawns.

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