The Norman Transcript

February 27, 2013

Protecting Norman’s water supply

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Water was the dominant theme at the Norman City Council meeting Tuesday as members adopted a fertilizer ordinance, new water conservation triggers and a resolution to use drought-tolerant plants in city plantings.

The fertilizer ordinance was hotly debate before passing in a 7-2 vote, with council members Dave Spaulding and Chad Williams voting against.

Spaulding said he does not support the ordinance because it is big government and he believes it cannot be enforced. Williams said the ordinance should be educational, not mandatory.

“There is a difference in the term of impact between voluntary and statutory fertilizer ordinances,” Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said she originally favored voluntary controls, but the seriousness of the lake issues swayed her to support the mandatory ordinance.

Most of the water that runs off in the Norman area ends up back in Lake Thunderbird, Norman’s primary drinking source.

 “We’re in a unique situation that we actually drink our storm water,” city engineer Scott Sturtz said. “This is to protect Lake Thunderbird.”

The ordinance is designed to limit phosphorus pollution. In some cases, phosphorus might be needed if the soil is low in phosphorus. In addition, phosphorus is beneficial when plantings are new. If phosphorus or phosphate is needed, it is allowed.

The ordinance restricts application when it is raining or rain is predicted or if soils are saturated. Phosphorus fertilizer on paved areas must be removed and cannot be stored uncontained. Application is prohibited within 25 feet of a water body and cannot be blown, swept or dumped into any street, storm drain, ditch, creek, pond or waterway.

The ordinance contains a public education component, and registration will be required for commercial applicators using phosphorus. Stores that sell fertilizer with phosphorus must label it and post notices about the city’s fertilizer regulations. Sales of phosphate fertilizer will be tracked.

The Department of Agriculture regulates fertilizer and notified city staff that state law prohibits the city regulating fertilizer for agricultural use. Because of that limitation, agricultural use has been exempted in the ordinance.

The current drought and low water levels of Lake Thunderbird prompted the city council to amend the Water Conservation Plan.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to go into mandatory water conservation in the winter,” Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “This is a problem with our supply side, not our demand side.”

In the past, the city mandated water conservation when demand exceeded the capacity to process water during the summer.

Under the newly adopted amendments, the city manager can implement Stage 2 mandatory water conservation, which includes even-odd watering, if the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District requests a 10 percent reduction in Norman’s allocation from Lake Thunderbird or if the lake drops to a level of 1,032 or below.

The current lake level as of Tuesday evening was 1,031.78 feet.

Currently, Norman is under the 10 percent reduction and has implemented Stage 2 mandatory conservation.

Stage 3 mandatory conservation limits watering to one day a week. New triggers include further reduction of the lake allocation or a lake level of 1,029 feet or below.

“It pins it to lake levels and it pins it to COMCD asking us to reduce our usage,” Komiske said.

COMCD has notified the city that a further reduction would be coming if the lake level gets below 1,030 feet.

“Yesterday, we had over an inch-and-a-half of rain, which was very welcome,” Komiske said. “But we have to look at the rain over the whole year.”

Jeanette Coker asked if the lake could be dredged.

Komiske said lakes are built with a 100-year life and is expected to silt in.

“Right now, it is at about half of its expected life,” Komiske said. “A number of engineering firms have looked at dredging lakes.”

He said it’s more economically sound to build a new lake.

The conservation plan allows for citations.

“Most people are very cooperative,” Komiske said. “We have issued a lot of warnings, but we have not issued a citation recently.”

In an attempt to conserve water, the city council also voted to use drought-resistant and Oklahoma-proven plants on city property.

Additionally, an informational guide will be made available to Norman residents to encourage private use of these plants.

Joy Hampton



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