NORMAN — Water, both its availability and its quality, are increasing concerns for the city council.
Despite opposition from two council members, the council Tuesday passed an ordinance that regulates the use of phosphorus-based fertilizers, believed to be a significant cause of too much algae growth at Lake Thunderbird.
Phosphorus gets washed into the lake from parts of Norman, Moore and Oklahoma City, causing the proliferation of algae. Algae produces chlorophyll-a, which can introduce toxins into the water. City officials say Lake Thunderbird has more than three times the amount of chlorophyll-a allowed by the federal Clean Water Act.
Councilman Dave Spaulding said he opposed the ordinance regulating phosphorus-based fertilizers “because it is vague, unenforceable … and another example of government intrusion.”
Spaulding and Councilman Chad Williams voted against the ordinance, which restricts the application of phosphorus-based fertilizers to the first six months of turf establishment from seed or sod or unless soil samples taken from a lawn or specific area indicate the soil is deficient in phosphorus.
Under the ordinance, commercial applicators are required to register with the city, with a registration fee waiver available to those who certify they do not use phosphorus-based fertilizers.
City officials also will produce an informational pamphlet about the negative effects of using phosphorus-based fertilizers. Anyone selling phosphorus-based fertilizers will be required to make the pamphlets available to purchasers.
Violations of the ordinance, which will take effect in 30 days, will result in fines of not less than $50 or more than $750.
Education not enough
Williams said he believes in educating the public about the negative effects of using phosphorus-based fertilizers but opposes mandatory restrictions.
Councilman Jim Griffith said he “wholeheartedly” disagrees with the voluntary approach.
“The lake already has three times the acceptable level of chlorophyll-a,” Griffith said. “We can't wait much longer to do something about it. We need to do this now.”
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said city officials should take a proactive approach in educating the public, but an ordinance also is necessary because of the seriousness of the situation.
“This is our drinking water,” Rosenthal said. “We already have problems with supply. This is about quality.”
Because of an ongoing drought, the city is under a mandatory water conservation plan that bans outdoor watering or irrigation on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On other days, it bans outdoor watering or irrigation between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and allows for odd/even outdoor watering based on street addresses during other hours.
Lake Thunderbird's water level is 7.5 feet below the conservation pool level of 1,039 feet, prompting the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District — the lake's governing body — to mandate in January a 10 percent cut in usage by Norman, Midwest City and Del City, the three cities that rely on the lake for drinking water.
Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said the lake's governing board may mandate further cuts if the lake level continues to drop.
At its Tuesday meeting, council members approved amending the city's water conservation plan to add “triggers,” which would result in further mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering in Norman.
Those triggers would be if the lake level drops to 1,029 feet or below, or if the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District cuts usage by another 10 percent.
Komiske said either trigger would mean residents would be restricted to watering only one day a week. Some council members said they also favored prohibiting outdoor watering by hand, which currently is allowed at any time.
“Anyone under 30 doesn't know what a drought is like,” Komiske said. “They haven't lived through one yet. It's not just a matter of having a dry year. We're in our third year of a drought right now, and predictions are that the drought will continue and possibly intensify for another three years.”