CANTON — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing 30,000 acre-feet of water Wednesday from Canton Lake in northwest Oklahoma into the North Canadian River to help replenish Oklahoma City's drinking water supply, city officials said.
“We put off the release as long as possible,” Marsha Slaughter, city utilities department director, said in the release. “The recent rain will help prevent the released water from being absorbed into the dry river bed.”
The water released will take about two weeks to reach Oklahoma City, where it will be captured in Lake Hefner and replenish the drinking water supply that serves about 1.2 million people. The January release will have little improvement on recreation at the Oklahoma City lake. The lake level is at a record low, leaving many boats high and dry.
“We don't take water releases for recreational purposes,” Slaughter said. “We take the water only to replenish water supply.”
State Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, criticized the move.
“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,” Marlatt said. “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 proactive water conservation plan.”
Rep. Mike Sanders also was critical of Oklahoma City's decision to draw down on Canton Lake.
“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,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Failure of water management planning got them to this point. It was ill-advised to use reserve water first rather than a monitored drawdown of two-thirds full Lake Hefner.”
For the past five decades, Oklahoma City has experienced above average rainfall, and water releases were few. The past two droughts have been hard on all Oklahoma lakes and the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center expects the drought to continue in 2013. Most Oklahoma lakes are below normal pool elevation.
Oklahoma City has implemented a mandatory odd/even water rotation program. All water customers in Oklahoma City and in the communities that use its water are required to water yards according to the house numbers of their addresses. More stringent programs could be implemented as temperatures and water demand increase.
“Typically, the fall and spring rains refill the lakes,” Slaughter said. “However, rainfall has been well below average. Oklahoma City received 29.5 inches of rain in 2012, 7 inches below average rainfall.”
The Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust owns water rights in Canton Lake and has used it since the 1950s.