Woodward, Okla. —
With drought conditions continuing to plague the state and lake water continuing to disappear, the appropriation of that water is coming under scrutiny as Oklahoma City is planning to draw 7.3 feet of water from Canton Lake to use in Lake Hefner.
Fisheries Supervisor John Stahl with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation explained that Oklahoma City owns water rights to Canton Lake's conservation pool.
Canton Lake Manager Kathy Carlson with the Corps of Engineers explained the conservation pool saying, "Basically its the usable space within any pool. It has various applications, it's your usable water. The conservation portion is what's utilized to meet your various operations, whether it be fish and wildlife, water supply storage, hydro electric power. It's your normal operating level between the flood pool, which is above normal operating levels, and the inactive pool, which is your lowest level."
The conservation pool consists of 19 ft of water from the lake if it's full, Stahl said.
However, he said the lake hasn't been full since 2 water releases were made in 2011, resulting in a water level drop of 9 feet.
"Canton Lake hasn't gained any water since May, so we're still down 9 feet. There was a meeting on Dec. 12, 2012 at the Water Resources Board where Oklahoma City requested another 7.3 feet of water to take place sometime in January which would result in a total of 16.3 feet of water out of Canton Lake," he said.
ANOTHER WATER DRAW MIGHT LEAD TO MORE FISH KILLS
While Stahl admits its within Oklahoma City's legal power to do so, he said this draw could have devastating repercussions on Canton Lake.
"As the fisheries supervisor for Canton I told them I was very concerned about a massive fish kill next summer," he said.
Stahl went on to explain exactly what a fish kill was and how it worked.
"With the water that shallow and Canton being a wind swept lake, nutrients that would normally be trapped at the bottom will be stirred up and brought up to the sunlight and heat. The result will be a tremendous plankton bloom which will turn the water pea green and result in a massive loss of fish," he said.
Stahl said the lake has already dealt with other wildlife losses from the previous water draws.
"We had a large kill of freshwater drum fish last year from the water taken. A lot of people don't realize it, but drum are actually sensitive fish, so we expect that the environmental stress from the water taken to have brought on the massive fish kill," he said.
In addition to the drum killed off, Stahl suspects the water draw to have severely affected the walleye and saugeye egg harvesting that takes place at Canton.
"Canton is where we get walleye and saugeye eggs for the whole state, and last year is the first year we couldn't net 10 million eggs. We ended up going to Fort Supply lake as well for eggs, but we were still only able to get 4 million. This year with lake levels so low if Fort Supply doesn't gain 2 feet of water between now and March we wont be able to get a boat out there and we'll have to get our fish from out of state," said Stahl.
WATER DRAW A DRAIN ON CANTON'S ECONOMY
Curtis Hoskins with the Canton Lake Association expressed his concerns as well, not only about the environmental impact the draw could have on the lake, but the effects on the community as well. Hoskins said he believes the low lake level is responsible for the reduction in tourism and tourist revenue that Canton has seen as of late.
Stahl suspects this additional draw will only continue to hurt business in Canton.
"We're also not expecting any Walleye rodeo this year. There is currently one boat ramp available and soon that won't be usable," Stahl said.
In the past the Walleye Rodeo would bring in thousands of people to participate in the annual fishing tournament held at the lake. This is turn meant more people spending more money to eat and shop in Canton.
IS DRAW NECESSARY NOW?
One of Hoskins main concerns was whether the draw from the lake was absolutely necessary right now.
"We've been told the Lake Hefner Water Treatment Plant requires 25 million gallons of water a day. There are currently about 40,200 acre-feet of water in Lake Hefner. Since there are 325,853 gallons per foot acre, that means ideally Hefner has 524 days worth of water to run the facility with," Hoskins said.
Hoskin's continued, "I think its unrealistic to expect every drop of water to be reachable by the facility, but surely with that much water there's enough time to hold off until the spring rain before they finish off our lake."
Stahl also warns that there's a chance that much of the water, if taken now, might not even make it to Hefner.
"When they let water out of Canton without a rainy event, when the river bed isn't wet, they lose half the water wetting the riverbed between Canton and Oklahoma City," he said.
CANTON LAKE LEVELS ARE ALREADY LOW
Hoskins said the normal storage capacity of Canton Lake was 111,310 acre feet, and that it currently only contained 51,659 acre feet, leaving it 46% capacity. Whereas Hefner, which normally contains around 69,893 acre feet still has 40,210 acre feet, putting it at 58% capacity.
The proposed 30,000 acre feet withdraw from Canton would leave the lake with 29,651 acre feet or at 27% capacity, he said. This would leave only about couple feet of water in the conservation pool, which is expected to be lost to evaporation within a few short months.
"I just think we need to review every possible option before we make any decisions this serious," Hoskins said.
Marsha Slaughter with the Oklahoma City Water Resource Utility Board says efforts have been made to conserve the water currently within Lake Hefner.
Slaughter said that seasonal water conservation efforts have been in effect in Oklahoma City as well as the surrounding areas it sells water to.
Hoskins criticized these efforts however, saying they've been primarily voluntary efforts.
"The only mandatory water rationing I've been aware of was even and odd watering days from August 2, 2012 to August 14, 2012," he said.
Slaughter also said Oklahoma City is currently pumping water upstream from lakes in southeast Oklahoma as well as discussing the purchase of water from various other areas as alternative means of attaining water.
These alternative means may become necessary however after the scheduled 7.3 foot draw from Canton Lake, Stahl said.
"Dropping the lake 7.3 feet will leave 2.7 feet of Oklahoma City's water allotment in Canton Lake, but chances are, with the lake is losing about 0.5 feet per month through evaporation, that the remaining 2.7 feet would be lost within about five months. So after this, basically the cup will be empty," Stahl said.
SAFEGUARDS NEEDED TO PROTECT CANTON, OTHER LAKES
Following a recent public meeting at the Canton Community Center, the concerns of Canton residents may have been heard, as the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust is scheduled to meet with the Canton Lake Association on Wednesday, Jan. 16 to further discuss the water draw.
Hoskins seemed optimistic about the meeting, saying "I think it's important for everyone to sit down and reevaluate the negative aspects that are going to occur from a water release right now. We've done quite a bit of research and we know what the impacts will be on our end, we need to see what the impacts will be on their end. So we need to sit down and talk it over and hopefully reach a compromise that'll work for both parties."
Hoskins says their concerns for lake conservation aren't just restricted to Canton lake however, but with lakes statewide.
"Oklahoma City doesn't own the water in Canton, they have a permit for use of the water, which the state of Oklahoma issues," he said. "I think in the future there will need to be safeguards put into place, not just with Canton, but with lakes with storage contracts across Oklahoma, to protect the fisheries and the wildlife that rely on them. This is what we're striving towards, to get some change and protection, because this doesn't only affect wildlife and the environment, but the communities that depend on them as well."
Hoskins continued, "The people of these communities live off the products of the lake, and without people coming in for the lake there's no money to be made. We're working on both the Federal and State level to have more investigation put into the matter to see if there's any safeguards that can be put into place or legislation passed to protect these lakes."
He said he encourages those concerned with the conservation of lakes across Oklahoma to contact their state and federal representatives to let them know that the preservation of lake's ecosystems and the communities that rely on them is a necessity as well as to ask what's being done to safeguard them.
Hoskins advised that those interested can contact US Sen. Tom Coburn at (405) 231-4941, US Sen. Jim Inhofe at (405) 608-4381, and US Rep. Frank Lucas at (405) 373-1958. He also encourages people to contact their state representative as well.