Pushing the limits

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Ernie Martin shows off a Dobson Fly during a Water Animals & Wildlife Conservation lecture Saturday at Norman Public Library East.

Norman residents used more than 90%, about 22 million gallons, of the city's daily water capacity last week.

To encourage water conservation and remind residents of the odd/even watering schedule, the City of Norman will tweet daily updates on resident's water capacity usage. Ken Komiske, the city's director of utilities, said the water supply is good right now because of all the spring rain, but residents are using twice the amount used in the winter.

The city typically uses 10 million gallons a day in the winter, Komiske said, but every day last week residents used about 21 or 22 million gallons in a day. He said pushing the water capacity to those levels puts stress on things such as pumps and pipes.

The city has a water reservoir. It gets water from Lake Thunderbird, a 1 million gallon supply comes from Oklahoma City and from 31 wells.

"So, when everyone is using the water we are supplying 22 million gallons, 92% of our wells are working and our plant is making as much as our plant can make," Komiske said. "So, that's the issue, it's not that we are running out of water."

Komiske said if the city were to have a major pipe break, a well go down or a fire break out the city would be hurting. He said waterline breaks and fires concern the city when they are anywhere near 90%.

"We are at the point where we can't have anything break, and that's not a good position to be in," Komiske said.

Geri Wellborn, Norman water treatment plant manager, said the impacts aren't being felt significantly and they aren't telling anyone they can't have water. She said residents have to be careful and conscious of when they are irrigating and their conservation efforts. Wellborn said the peak of the day moments, when everyone comes home and starts using water is at the same time, can be very difficult for them to sustain.

"We are fortunate in that we have the connection to Oklahoma City, so if something breaks or we can't maintain demand we can simply take more water on a day and then the next day we would cut back on that usage," Wellborn said. "The reality is we are only allowed to take 30 million gallons a month. We have to be very careful if we take 5 million gallons a day, we can't take any for five days. It's not a good thing."

Wellborn said she wants to make sure everyone knows the city is in conservation mode.

Water capacity percentages have occurred like this before in the summer, Komiske said, but the last couple of summers residents hadn't exceeded 21 million gallons. He said the city was feeling comfortable that residents were conserving water and he's not sure why the percentage went up this year. If residents go back to the odd/even watering schedule it will make a huge difference, he said.

The odd/even watering schedule is a city ordinance passed several years ago, and is meant to help conserve water through irrigation. Through the ordinance, houses and businesses with odd-numbered addresses can only automatically water on odd-numbered calendar days and those with even-numbered addresses only water on even-numbered calendar days.

The odd/even ordinance only applies to the use of automatic irrigation. Residents who water their lawn by hand have no limit or time structure. Wellborn said the main thing is for residents to be aware of when they are irritating and be conscious of their usage.

The city's utility website also provides other conservation efforts, including: adjusting sprinklers to make sure they are watering areas that need watering, not watering between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., utilizing mulch for landscaping, utilizing equipment such as soaker hoses, washing only full loads of dishes or clothes, not leaving faucets running and shaving minutes off of shower times. Between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. is hottest part of the day, and at that time up to 40% of the water used can be lost to evaporation.

Komiske said residents need to be conscious about their water usage and they need to utilize as many conservation efforts as possible, and to make every drop count.