Water quality of Lake Thunderbird still very bad, Norman mayor says

by Oliver Rey, originally posted on November 18, 2016


NORMAN, Okla. – A presentation on the water quality in Norman was held on Monday at City Hall.

Several speakers were present including Lynne Miller, Norman’s mayor, Roger Frech, the president of the Central Oklahoma Conservancy District, Derek Smithee, Water Quality Division Chief at Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Ken Komiske, the director of utilities at City of Norman and Amanda Nairn, a member of the Environmental Control Advisory Board in Norman.

“There is nothing more important than water quality,” Miller said, adding the quality of the water in Lake Thunderbird is very bad.

Miller also said a lot of Normanites are misunderstanding what stormwater is and how it works.

“Lake Thunderbird is nothing more than the reflection of our watershed,” Smithee said.

Smithee said Oklahoma is actually in a wet period over several years and it should have a new drought period over the next decades. He added this phenomenon has existed since millenary and has nothing to do with climate change.

“What seems normal for me, is not,” Smithee said.

Then Smithee said the water quality has been monitored the past 20 years through the Beneficial Use Monitoring Program, which is composed of six components. Both water quality and quantity of the lakes and wells in Oklahoma are monitored in partnership with the USGS in Oklahoma. He added the Clean Water Act requires adjustments at least once every three years, and annually in Oklahoma City.

Smithee noted over 1,500 individual water wells have water quality issues in Oklahoma saying, “That sounds like a lot, but we are in the national average.”

According to Smithee, the first cause of water pollution is bacteria disseminated by animals. Smithee also said most of the water population comes from many sources making it difficult to find and stop the contamination.

Concerning the case of Lake Thunderbird, Smithee said the removal of the dust, which gave the Lake the nickname “Dirtybird” has enabled the sunlight to go deeply in the water of the lake that added to a high nitrogen water concentration (provoked by the use of fertilizer) created the optimal condition to algae proliferation.

Frech said some lakes in Oklahoma have been affected by algae proliferation such as Lake Texoma. However, Frech said only blue algae are toxic and very dangerous for humans.

Further, Komiske said there are several programs ongoing in Norman to reduce the amount of Chromium-6, which is toxic, in the drinking water by transforming the Chromium-6 into Chromium-3, which is not dangerous.

“We are one of the leaders in the country in trying to reduce Chromium-6 contamination,” Komiske said.

Besides the discussion at City Hall, a free tour at the Norman’s Treatment Water Plant will take place with Ward 6, Councilwoman Breea Clark at 10 a.m. on Nov. 19, located at 3000 E. Robinson. The guided visit will be led by Scott Aynes, the supervisor of the Treatment Water Plant in Norman.

“Norman citizens’ water rate dollars go towards new plant upgrades and treatment processes to keep Norman’s water safe. The staff at the Water Treatment plant are excited to have an open house with the community and to inform the public about the treatment process and to encourage everyone to continue to conserve water,” Aynes said.

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