Southwest Oklahoma cities look to dredging project to survive drought

by Silas Allen, originally posted on April 1, 2015


After several years of drought have devastated drinking water supplies, several Oklahoma communities are working on a plan to access what little water is left in Waurika Lake.

Lake managers and officials six towns that draw water from Waurika Lake hope to dredge silt from the bottom of the lake. The project would give residents access to more than 8 billion gallons of water they didn’t have before.

“That’s a lot of water to us,” said Dave Taylor, director of the Waurika Lake Master Conservancy District.

The plan’s details haven’t been determined, Taylor said, but the estimated $12 million price tag would be covered by the six cities that use the lake as a drinking water source — Lawton, Duncan, Comanche, Temple, Walters and Waurika.

Areas of southern and southwestern Oklahoma have been in drought since October 2010, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A drought monitor report released last week lists nearly all of southwest Oklahoma in extreme or exceptional drought, the report’s two most severe categories.

Those years of drought have taken a toll on municipal drinking water supplies across the region. The water level at Waurika Lake was down 19 feet Wednesday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, leaving the lake at just 29 percent of its capacity.

“Obviously, the lake is low,” Taylor said. “It’s at the lowest point it’s been since it was built.”

At the moment, lake managers can only draw water using the reservoir’s middle water intake gate. Another gate farther below the water line is broken and blocked by silt, Taylor said. Lake managers hope to repair the lower gate and clear silt away from it, then dredge silt out of the lake’s original channel.

Lake managers are waiting for permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin work. Once those permits are issued, managers hope to begin the bidding process for the project within weeks, Taylor said.

Once that work is complete, cities would immediately have access to an additional 25,000 acre-feet of water, Taylor said. An acre-foot is the the amount of water required to cover an acre of land a foot deep.

Besides giving immediate access to more water, dredging the reservoir would create a more sustainable water situation where the amount of water running into the lake more nearly equals the amount that’s pumped out or lost to evaporation, Taylor said.

Cities across southern and southwestern Oklahoma have taken drastic measures to stave off the effects of drought. Lawton has been under stage 3 watering restrictions since last year. Those restrictions limit outdoor watering to certain hours, two days a week. City officials there are also considering other measures, including a cloud-seeding plan.

In Duncan, officials enacted a near-total ban on outdoor watering last year. Duncan City Manager Jim Frieda last month called the city’s water situation “pretty frightening.”

The Duncan City Council approved a utility rate increase last month to pay for the dredging project. Frieda said Duncan’s share of the cost of the project would be an estimated $246,000 a year for 30 years.

Frieda said the dredging project would expand the city’s access to water from its main source. City officials also hope to improve the infrastructure at several smaller city-owned reservoirs, Frieda said.


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