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Drought Puts Pressure on OK Water Needs

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News.
August 16, 2011

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The southern part of the United States is going through what climatologists are calling an exceptional drought.

Parts of Oklahoma have seen little significant precipitation since October First on top of a heat wave this summer with more days above 100 degrees than below.

The ultra dry conditions are putting pressure on water needs in the Sooner State.

Officials at the Lake Hefner Water Treatment Plant in northwest Oklahoma City are giving us a tour of the facility which is currently moving 60 million gallons of water a day.

Plant Manager Doug Holmes says temperatures in the triple digits for much of the summer have maxed out the process at 75 million gallons.

“It’s not necessarily been much more of a call for water it’s just been more water over an extended period of time. Normally we’re flowing at our maximum capacity for a couple of weeks this time it’s been about a month, month and a half this time of year.”

Oklahoma City serves water to nearly 1.2 million people in the entire metropolitan area.

On July 30th, a record 202 million gallons was released for customers.
The heat is also taking its toll on the pipes delivering the water.

The city’s water utility has fixed 680 main breaks and 740 leaks since July First.

OKC Water spokesperson Debbie Ragan says the increased usage on lawns and pipe breakage is impacting water pressure for some customers.

“While some people are watering their yards there may be fellow citizens at the edge of the city that don’t have enough water pressure to even take a bath.”

Across the state, the lack of water has impacted tourism.

Low water levels in northeast Oklahoma’s Grand Lake resulted in an increase of toxic levels of blue-green algae.

Governor Mary Fallin says this hit just as visitors were coming in for the fourth of July.

“It took a toll on businesses and tourism at the lake itself. Some of the businesses I talked to at Grand Lake told me they saw a 50% drop in the number of people who were coming into their businesses.”

The triple digit temperatures and drought have also resulted in 16 deaths from the heat, 36 drownings in area lakes and hundreds of wildfires.

So far this year as many as 175 structures and 250,000 acres have burned from wild fires.

Oklahoma Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood says he’s had to dip into reserve water supplies to help.

“Just working with local firefighters making sure that they had water. Communities as far as the water buffaloes for potable water which is a trailer of water basically until their pipes are fixed.”

Finishing up the tour in the filtration area, Doug Holmes says he’s proud of the water he’s able to produce despite low levels in Lake Hefner.

“Oklahoma City’s got some of the best water in the nation. We’ve been voted some of the best in the North American continent. My push is to ease off the bottled water and drink more tap water because it’s better for you and it’s a lot less expensive.”

Climatologists say the drought in Oklahoma might not come to an end until fall.

There’s also the possibility of a La Nina system which could mean another dry winter for the state.

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