By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Norman City Council is working in conjunction with city staff to create new bulk water charges for temporary users.
Currently, the city rents water meters for temporary bulk water use to mostly commercial users. The rate is $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water used, which is higher than the regular commercial rate. Additionally, temporary users must put down a deposit for the meter and pay a $25 per month rental fee.
During peak summer months, when the city has to buy water from Oklahoma City at $5.23 per 1,000 gallons, that’s a losing proposition.
“We are exposing ourselves to actually losing money by selling water, and that disturbs me,” Finance Committee Chair Tom Kovach said.
Council members looked at several options presented by city staff and said they are interested in an inverted charge based on monthly usage. Charges under consideration are $4 per 1,000 gallons for up to 10,000 gallons used in a month; $5 for 10,001-50,000 gallons per month; and $6 for more than 50,000 gallons used in a month.
The bulk water usage charge is set administratively, so no popular vote is required.
Silver Star is the city’s biggest repeat customer and paid about $5,500 for bulk water last year. The new pay schedule would double that cost, but that’s a small amount compared to the total budget of the road projects Silver Star contracts.
However, the point was made by Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary that while the contractor pays the fee, in building roads, the city or the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will most often foot the bill. So the city’s cost for road building will increase somewhat based on the water charges.
While the temporary bulk water meters are most commonly used by contractors doing road construction and by builders, anyone can rent the meters. Concerns were raised recently when an oil driller rented a meter for a site on Franklin Road because the meters are attached to hydrants and use potable water.
Utilities Director Ken Komiske said the bulk water meter sales is not a large portion of Norman’s water sales and constitutes about 0.5 percent of total water produced in Norman.
“This is not a significant source of money, it’s more of a convenience to our customers,” Komiske said.
If a hydrant is not available and water must be trucked in, the trucks full of water are heavy and do a lot of damage to roads. Many big trucks traversing roads can be a safety issue, as well.
City council members also discussed whether it might be possible in some situations or in drought to sell bulk water from the city’s nonpotable wells. Two such wells are being used for nonpotable purposes such as street sweeping.
Other wells have been offline for years, and it would take a financial investment of $5,000 or more to get them up and running again. Users would still have to truck the water from the wells to their sites, but it might be an option to consider in drought situations.
City Manager Steve Lewis said once an increase in the rate is decided on, the city can give users 30 days’ notice and increase the bulk water charge in time for summer around the first of June.
Council members also discussed safety measures at oil and gas well sites, namely fencing to keep people — especially children and teenagers — from getting hurt at the rigs.
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said the older wells that are often grandfathered in should be given a grace period but should still have to comply with new safety standards when they are implemented.
Norman currently limits drilling to 10-acre parcels, which primarily keeps it in rural areas of the city. However, council members would like to enforce more standards and are looking at the Oklahoma City regulations in particular.
Rosenthal said Oklahoma City has specific rules for drilling in watersheds and that might be useful for Norman.
Kovach agreed that using Oklahoma City regulations as a guideline for updating Norman’s rules would be a good start.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Kovach said.
The public was allowed to ask questions and make comments at the end of the meeting. Jack Dake of Baron Exploration Company said Norman’s regulations work well and there have been no problems.
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