Hundreds of thousands of people in central Oklahoma depend on underground water that is plentiful but requires careful management to ensure supplies remain adequate for the region’s growing population.
That’s the message from Oklahoma Water Resources Board officials after a ground-breaking study of the water system beneath 3,000 square miles of the most densely populated area of the state. It revealed more accurately than ever before just how much water can be drawn from the Garber-Wellington Aquifer before it essentially runs dry.
The study by the board and the U.S. Geological Survey determined that if a maximum number of wells were placed in the aquifer and water was pumped at the maximum rate now permitted, the water would be substantially depleted in 35 to 41 years. It also showed that certain areas dotted by domestic wells could have localized supply issues depending on future development and use.
On the positive side, much of the aquifer is not being used. The largest city in the area, Oklahoma City, uses water from lakes instead of wells, and sells water to other cities. Edmond’s water system uses wells but also gets half its water from Arcadia Lake.
Also, permitted pumping rates would be reduced, if necessary, to preserve the resource, said Julie Cunningham, the board’s planning and management chief. In fact, the study, which took five years to complete, will help the board as it begins work on setting a new, permanent pumping rate for large water users required to have a permit.
“With a combination of proper management, we can preserve the aquifer for the long-term,” Cunningham said Wednesday. “We view the Garber-Wellington as a good potential source of water for the future.”
Private wells multiply
While the biggest users of the aquifer are city water systems, there are tens of thousands of private water wells in the sprawling area in Oklahoma, Logan, Lincoln, Pottawatomie and Cleveland counties. Drillers have been sinking more and more of these wells in recent years as residential developers build neighborhoods in semi-rural areas outside of city water service.
Nearly 184,000 people depended on private, domestic wells in the aquifer in 2010, up nearly 21 percent from 10 years earlier. The overall population of the area increased by about 12 percent during the same period to more than a million people.
Over the past decade, many of the new wells have been placed north of Edmond, south of Guthrie, southeast Oklahoma County and areas around Moore. There are also many domestic wells on the eastern fringes of Edmond and Oklahoma City.Water conservation tips Read the study
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USGS, OWRB study: http://ok.water.usgs.gov/projects/coa/
Water conservation tips: http://www.owrb.ok.gov/supply/conservation.php#tips