NORMAN — Despite legislation moving forward to allow augmentation of Lake Thunderbird during drought, Norman residents could face mandatory water conservation measures in the near future.
Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District General Manager Randy Worden recently told Norman city leaders that its three municipal water customers — Midwest City, Del City and Norman — would be asked to reduce usage of the lake water supply by 10 percent.
Those letters arrived in city offices Monday.
“Reducing consumption is critical to sustaining the lake through an extended drought,” Worden wrote. “Therefore, effective January 1st, the District is imposing a 10 percent reduction of each city’s allocation. Further reductions may be forthcoming in the next several months depending on the rainfall that is received and declining lake elevations.”
“We’re actually ahead of the curve,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “We have been educating our customers on water conservation for the past several years. We’ll have to look at our conservation plan and see if we need to import language to add more mandatory conservation issues based on COMCD’s requirements.”
Water in winter is not the issue, but the city will need to prepare for spring and the possibility of mandatory water conservation.
“We’ll probably update our water conservation plan and include triggers tied to COMCD’s allocation,” Komiske said. “They’re imposing a 10 percent reduction in each city’s allocation.”
Komiske said December’s average water use was 9.5 million gallons of water a day. But in the summer, the city exceeds 22 million gallons a day.
Providing the President signs the Thunderbird water bill, it’s passage will allow COMCD to explore outside water options to boost lake levels.
“That’s good news, it allows importation of non-basin water,” Komiske said. “It’s a really, really good step, but the next piece of the puzzle is going to be very expensive.”
Representative from Norman, including city leadership and members of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, traveled to Washington, D.C. in March. The Lake Thunderbird legislation was the item at the top of the list that area representatives lobbied for, Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said.
“The efforts on the bill involved a lot of people working with our congressional delegation and advocating for it,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve been personally involved with this issue for a year and a half. This is a very positive step, but the drought conditions mean we will have to continue to look at this.”
On Monday, Norman received just less than half an inch of rain, but it would take several inches over an extended period of time to overcome the cumulative effects of two and a half years of drought.
COMCD explored options in addition to Oklahoma City’s Atoka line. The advantage of the Atoka line is that is currently exists, is a reliable source and it runs near Lake Thunderbird.
All of the options explored were costly compared with current water sources such as Norman’s water wells and current Lake Thunderbird usage, however. The non-reuse sources of water looked at in the study commissioned by COMCD — including sources from southeast Oklahoma, Kaw Lake, Scissortail Lake or Parker Reservoir — will be possible if the President signs the Lake Thunderbird Efficient Use Act into law.
Of those options, Scissortail was least expensive, with Parker coming in second. However, Worden said Parker likely would have fewer issues with tribal concerns and endangered species than the Scissortail option.
Reuse options could face hurdles from the Department of Environmental Quality but that “gray water” could be a feasible option for landscape watering and irrigation.
“Conservation, quite frankly, is the least costly of all the options,” Worden said at a Dec. 18 meeting with city leaders. “It will mean a reduction in irrigation. If things continue as they are right now, we will reach our record low in February and exceed it. It doesn’t bode well for this summer.”