The Norman Transcript

Local news

September 3, 2009

Dealing with drought

Environmental study looks at future drought planning for Lake Thunderbird

Extreme droughts will come again, said Randy Worden, district manager of the Central Oklahoma Conservation District or COMCD.

And when drought comes, the three member cities of the COMCD -- Norman, Midwest City and Del City -- need to have more water resources at hand, he said. COMCD manages Lake Thunderbird primarily to provide raw water to the three municipalities, along with flood control and recreational activities like fishing and sailing.

Worden and environmental consultants from Tetra Tech spoke at a public meeting Tuesday at the Lake Thunderbird Boat House to launch an environmental assessment or EA exploring the effects of bringing additional water to the lake from southeastern Oklahoma.

"We are long overdue for an extended drought," Worden said.

The Lake Thunderbird Critical Need Water Supply Project would seek an agreement with the City of Oklahoma City to purchase augmentation water and draw that water from the Atoka pipeline which conveys water from Lake Atoka in southeastern Oklahoma to Lake Stanley Draper in southeast Oklahoma City.

Lake Thunderbird is a federally owned water storage facility holding 21,600 acre feet or 7 billion gallons a year, and was built in 1965. It falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. And because it's federally owned, an environmental assessment is required to be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The proposal would augment Thunderbird's water with 4,600 acre feet during drought periods. An acre foot is is the amount of water needed to cover an acre, one foot deep in water, or 312,851 gallons. The extra water could potentially be transferred when the lake is down to 1,036 feet above sea level, although that is not a firm number, Worden said.

Lake officials' most recent drought scare was in 2006.

The levels at Lake Thunderbird dropped to 59.75 percent of the conservation pool and a level of about 1,030 feet on March 30, 2006, the lowest level in about three decades and leaving wide expanses of exposed red-dirt shore lines. It was a situation that COMCD board member Steven Jones said at the time could require emergency action if it continued. But a strong downpour the next day brought the conservation pool back up to 71 percent, raising the elevation 2.3 feet to 1,033.45 feet above sea level.

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