The Duncan Banner

September 29, 2013

Next up in Duncan water woes: Cutting back at home

Big picture still bleak

Mike Smith
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Duncan city officials have not only tightened outdoor water restrictions and warned residents they will be enforced, they’re looking to you for more help in preserving the area’s shrinking water supply.

In the coming days, they will encourage people to cut back on water used inside the home — things like fixing leaky faucets and toilets and running only full loads in dishwashers and washing machines.

The city plans encourage such steps through fliers included with water bills, handouts and social media.

It’s also possible taxpayers in Duncan and other cities that draw water from Waurika Lake could pay potentially big bucks for dredging gobs of silt from the lake and piling it elsewhere.

The silt is threatening to clog the lake’s water pump intake. Even if the problem is fixed, the 6,040-acre lake might only have about two years of life left as a major water source unless there are some big-time rains, said Waurika Lake District Manager Dave Taylor.

“The power of prayer is pretty powerful,” he said, but it hasn’t paid off yet with the amount of rain needed for a big fix.

“Conservation is the only tool we have,” Taylor said.

And that tool, said Duncan City Manager Jim Frieda, needs to be applied inside the home, too. It’s not something the city can mandate, but it’s certainly something it will strongly encourage.

“My concern is that unless we take a serious look at this problem, sometime in the near future we could be in trouble,” Frieda said.

The area got some good rain Saturday and July was fairly wet, with Duncan picking up more than 7 inches of rain.

But with two years of drought as a backdrop and such parched soil, it was nothing close to a remedy. Lake Fuqua and Lake Humphreys, which Duncan owns and sometimes taps for water, only came up a couple of inches and those gains were short-lived.

“Part of that is because of the ponds upstream,” said Duncan Public Works Director Scott Vaughn. “They characterized it as us having ‘farm pond filling rains’, not lake-filling rains.”

The Duncan area got some good rain Saturday but more — especially timed right for optimum runoff — is needed.

Such rains have happened in parts of Oklahoma this year, including Lawton and Oklahoma City.

Lawton has had a couple of 6- to 8-inch rains over very short periods and has been drawing from its own lakes — Lake Ellsworth and Lake Lawtonka — since late July. It has not been pumping water from Waurika since then.

“They were really almost like single-day events and narrow bands (of rain) but they went right over their two watersheds,” Taylor said.

In late January, Oklahoma City officials sent millions of gallons of water from Canton Lake in northwestern Oklahoma down the North Canadian River and captured it for Lake Hefner — a direct source of water for Oklahoma City.

The move angered many residents who live around and near Canton Lake. They said Oklahoma City did little to conserve water despite the drought and Canton Lake — already low when it was siphoned – is now dying.

But Oklahoma City owns the rights to Canton Lake and Hefner was at a record low. City officials said they had to look out for their own residents.

About five months later, in late May, Oklahoma City got 10 inches of rain in 24 hours. The storms spawned some deadly tornadoes and flash flooding, but the rain filled Hefner to the brim. As of last month, Canton Lake was considered to be only about 25 percent full.

Vaughn said Lawton’s lakes — before the big rains they got — were not as low as Duncan’s lakes. That’s in part because Lawton was taking a lot of water from Waurika.

Waurika is Duncan’s primary source of drinking water and in years past, the city has only drawn from Fuqua and Humphreys intermittently. In the later winter and early spring this year, however, Duncan did start drawing from Fuqua regularly.

At the time, Fuqua had the best water quality, which generally makes it easier and cheaper to treat. But there was another reason.

“We were trying to be good members of the Waurika Lake district,” Vaughn said. “We were wanting to do our part to conserve the level at Waurika.”

But being good neighbors when it comes to getting clean water — often called the “new oil” commodity — only goes so far.

This week, Duncan stopped drawing water from Fuqua and is relying solely on Waurika again for now. Even with 2.5 inches of rain on Sept. 13, the municipal water capacity — the amount of water Duncan can draw for drinking purposes — was down to 50 percent at Fuqua and Humphreys.

“The lakes are getting so low, we are trying to preserve our own lakes,” Vaughn said.

Also this week, city officials imposed Stage 3 outdoor water restrictions in Duncan. Watering lawns and gardens, hosing sidewalks, washing cars outside of commercial car washes and other outdoor watering is now restricted to Wednesdays and Saturdays from midnight to 9 a.m. and fines will be imposed on repeated violators.

If the restrictions stay in place beyond Oct. 1, the watering window on those days will shrink to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 At Waurika this week, samples of silt were taken to determine how safe it is to be dredged and relocated. Early cost estimates for moving it range from $2.5 million to $6 million. The precise funding source for doing it has not been determined, but Duncan and the other five cities that draw from Waurika could end up paying part of the tab.

And removing the silt is no magic bullet. Taylor said it would only buy the lake six to nine months of extended life.

Even if there were predictions the drought will end, Taylor would put little stock in them.

“Scientists didn’t predict this drought,” he said.

Water consumption in Duncan is down significantly this year on average. Vaughn said part of that likely is tied to the wet July and part is due to outdoor water restrictions in place since May. It has made a difference.

It’s hard to quantify how much indoor water conservation would help, Vaughn said, but he thinks it could make a difference, too.

Frieda agrees.

“We are never going to put that restriction on everybody, we just hope as good citizens people will recognize there is a problem and self-impose them,” he said.