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November 8, 2012

Water levels continue to drop at Waurika Lake

WAURIKA — Water levels at Waurika Lake continue to reach new lows daily, but the last thing David Taylor wants to sound like is Chicken Little.

The water level is falling, but the District Manager of the Waurika Lake Master Conservancy District is confident the sky is not about to fall on the key water source.

“There’s no reason for panic, people need to understand that,” Taylor said. “What we need is about three days worth of rain and the level could get back to where we want it.

“We have two years before we would have a major problem, so right now, we don’t have to do anything drastic. But we do need to have a plan if things don’t change.”

The prolonged drought in the Waurika Lake Master Conservancy District area has dramatically lowered levels of nearly all water resources, from farm ponds to rivers and tributaries. As of Tuesday, the water level at Waurika Lake was at 941.28 feet, which is 10 feet below the normal pool of 951.4 feet.

Area residents have been following the steady decline, and there was a new sense of urgency on Nov. 1, when Waurika Lake Marina closed its crappie house along the fish dock. That facility, which provides indoor and outdoor fishing, normally closes at the end of November.

Still, Taylor said, even with the daily water loss, the conveyance system that feeds water to Waurika, Duncan, Lawton-Fort Sill, Comanche, Temple and Walters continues to distribute water at a normal rate.

“The lake is a little over 10 feet of where we’d like it to be. It’s the lowest the lake has ever been and we’re setting a new (low level) record every day,” he said.

Taylor noted the City of Lawton recently revised its water conservation policy, but added Waurika Lake provides only one-third of Lawton’s total water source.

That’s different than Waurika, Duncan and some other WLMCD communities, which currently draw 100 percent of their water from the 10,000-square acre lake in Jefferson County.

Noting evaporation is the main culprit in the water loss, Taylor stressed the water level situation could change quickly if a steady rain occurs in the next two years.

“If we could get three days of rain, things would change,” he said. “You need three days because of the evaporation factor. Evaporation is the primary reason for water loss.

“Of every four gallons of water we put in the lake, about three gallons is lot to evaporation. To do that, it takes three days of good rain.

“Lately, we’ve gotten one and a half or two days of rain, but that’s not caused a lot of water to go downstream to the lake. The third day of rain is when you get quality run-off.”

Historically, Oklahoma droughts have run in seven-year cycles, Taylor pointed out, adding, “and we’re in year five of the current drought,”

Without mentioning global warming directly, Taylor noted, “Most of us grew up in one of the wettest periods in Oklahoma history. So it’s a cultural thing for us to think we should be getting more rain than we’ve been getting.

“But that may not be the case anymore.”

Acknowledging the WLMCD has no power to mandate conservation programs in the individual communities, Taylor said, “I think some of the district cities have pretty good plans for conservation already made.

“We (the conservancy) can help them create plans, but they need to take the initiative and they are the ones who have to regulate those plans.”

If insufficient rainfall continues, Taylor said Waurika Lake won’t suddenly go dry, even if critical levels are reached.

“We have two years of water in the lake right now and whatever is left in the cities that pump water,” he explained. “After that, (the conservancy) would have to reduce flow rates due to alterations of the pumping system.

“That’s based on the assumption we get zero rain in the next two years, but most cities would have adequate water to meet the 10 days to two weeks it would take for us to repair the system.

“Right now, we need to keep hoping for rain and the cities need to be looking ahead. I think we’re six months to a year away from having to do serious planning for a water shortage.”

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