Woodward, Okla. —
By Robert Barron
CNHI News Service
CANTON — Water started pouring from Canton Lake dam Wednesday morning on its way to Oklahoma City.
The Army Corps of Engineers started releasing 30,000 acre-feet of water from the lake after Oklahoma City officials requested the water.
Oklahoma City had planned to seek the water for some time, but postponed the request as long as possible, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for Oklahoma City Public Utilities Department. Oklahoma City will use the water to replenish its drinking water supply. Oklahoma City officials decided to call for the water after Tuesday’s rains, which will help prevent water loss due to dry river beds.
“We decided to go ahead and do it and release (Wednesday) following the rain,” Ragan said.
The water will flow down the North Canadian River to Lake Hefner in northwest Oklahoma City. It will take about two weeks to reach Lake Hefner.
Oklahoma City is in the midst of a serious — but not critical— water shortage, Ragan said. The city has implemented mandatory an odd-even lawn watering rotation program, which extends to all communities that purchase water from Oklahoma City, she said. Oklahoma City also has partnered with Oklahoma State University Extension Service for educational material to help educate the public about how to water less, develop better watering practices and learning to live in a drought situation. The rationing plan was implemented Jan. 17 and will remain in effect indefinitely, Ragan said.
Ragan said people are good about following the rationing program, which is enforced with notices and violations.
“The rain we’ve been getting isn’t what we need. We need a really hard, fast rain that produces runoff, runs off the curb and into the tributaries and lakes,” Ragan said.
She said 580,000 people in Oklahoma City depend on the water, as do an additional 1.2 million people in the metropolitan area.
Canton Lake Association members fear drawing 30,000 acre-feet from the lake will damage it, said CLA member Mark Fuqua.
“If we don’t have spring rains, the fish will die,” he said. “It’s highly likely the lake will turn algae blue and will suffocate the fish if it gets hot again.”
At one time the lake contained 111,000 acre-feet of water. There was a drawdown of the lake sending water to Oklahoma City in 2011, Fuqua said, and the lake has not recovered due to the prolonged drought.
Kathy Carlson, Army Corps of Engineers manager for Canton Lake, said the release began Wednesday morning and will take three weeks to complete. The Corps will one sluice gate in increments to prevent a rush of water that would destroy river banks along the way, she said. The Corps of Engineers stores the water in Canton Lake for Oklahoma City, which has rights to the water.
“We will be making the release through one sluice gate. We raise the gate at different settings ...,” Carlson said.
Canton Lake was built for flood control, water supply and irrigation. Later, secondary purposes were included that added wildlife habitat and recreation. Oklahoma City pays the Corps $200,000 a year, which covers about 25 percent of the costs, for the water.
CLA members and Canton town officials fear lowering the lake’s water level will hurt businesses that depend on the lake.
“This should have been a last-ditch option for Oklahoma City, but the gates are open and the water is flowing out of Canton Lake right now,” said state Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward. “Not only are the people of western Oklahoma going to suffer, but when the dog days of summer are here and the drought is even worse, citizens in Oklahoma City are going to be impacted as well because of a failure to adopt a pro-active water conservation plan.”
Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, also was critical of Oklahoma City’s decision.
“Where has Oklahoma City been the last three years during this drought? Where is their water conservation plan? Lawns are still being watered in dead of winter. It makes no sense at all,” Sanders said. “Failure of water management planning got them to this point. It was ill-advised to use reserve water first rather than a monitored draw-down of two-thirds full Lake Hefner.”