In a further indication of how bad the drought has become, Oklahoma City officials are set to cancel the boating season at Lake Hefner and are studying a proposal to raise water rates.
The city is preparing a letter advising boat owners who lease slips at the Lake Hefner public docks that leases won't be renewed when they come due in April.
It would be the first time the city hasn't renewed leases since the public slips opened in the 1990s.
The best chance for owners to move boats stranded by historically low water levels may come in the next few weeks, Marsha Slaughter, the city's utilities director, said Tuesday.
Water being withdrawn from Canton Lake in northwest Oklahoma is expected to raise the level of Lake Hefner about 10 feet. That still would leave it about 7 feet below normal.
“If your hobby's been sailing the last couple of years, it's not been good,” said Kenna Green, president of the Lake Hefner Boat Owner's Association.
Gary McManus, the associate state climatologist, told the city council on Tuesday that forecasts for the next three months favor the drought persisting or intensifying in central Oklahoma.
“That forecast looks pretty strong at this point,” Slaughter said.
Leases for “wet stalls” at Lake Hefner range from $414 to $745 per year. Prices depend on the length and width of the slips, Green said.
Up to this point, slip leases have been offered for renewal annually by the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust. There are 311 leases.
Hefner is known for its sailing, and Green, who was at the docks Tuesday evening, said 60 to 70 percent of the boats moored there are sailboats.
Oklahoma City last week began withdrawing 30,000 acre-feet of water from Canton Lake, about 100 miles northwest of the city.
City utilities officials hope 20,000 acre-feet of the water eventually will make its way to Lake Hefner, raising the lake about 10 feet.
That's expected to be enough for some owners to move boats stranded in the mud.
Slaughter said the city has no plans to try to move boats that owners can't move themselves.
“This is a new trick for them, and it's a good one,” Green said. “They're being humane about it. That's good.”
Use more, pay more
With preparations under way to address the slip leases at Lake Hefner, the Water Utilities Trust board on Tuesday studied a proposal to increase rates for customers who use lots of water at home.
A plan presented by Bret Weingart, the utilities department assistant director, would have the intended effect of discouraging outdoor watering.
Water customers in Oklahoma City typically use about 7,000 gallons per month, officials said.
Chairman Pete White said he favored a simple approach that would reward people for using less water while maintaining — but not increasing — city revenues and making sure customers who use more pay more.
The city already has adopted a plan to limit water use by restricting outdoor watering to a maximum of every other day — known as odd-even because watering is tied to addresses.
New water rates could be coming soon, after the Water Utilities Trust makes a recommendation and the city council conducts public hearings and a vote.
“We're going to have to do something this summer, right?” said Cody Graves, a member of the Water Utilities Trust board, at Tuesday afternoon's meeting.
“Yes,” Slaughter said.