Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Oklahoma City Drought Problems A Microcosm Of the State’s Water Crisis

A grounded boat dock at Canton Lake, where Oklahoma City got billions of gallons of water in early 2013.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A grounded boat dock at Canton Lake, where Oklahoma City got billions of gallons of water in early 2013.

The latest update of the U.S. Drought Monitor shows 98 percent of Oklahoma experiencing at least abnormally dry conditions. As has been the case for the past five years, the worst of the drought is being felt in western Oklahoma, while the abundant waters of the eastern half of the state remain relatively unscathed.

There’s a geographic divide in Oklahoma between those who have plenty of water and those who desperately need it. As State Sen. Josh Brecheen put in during an interview with StateImpact Feb. 9:

“Unfortunately, this has turned into an east versus west debate in our state.”

And in Oklahoma City, it’s easy to see that divide vividly illustrated — not at the capitol building between lawmakers from opposite sides of the state, but between the lakes Oklahoma City residents rely on for water.

A smaller version of what’s happening with the drought statewide can be seen in OKC, where north side residents’ water supply is running low and the south side enjoying plentiful water.

From The Oklahoman‘s Silas Allen:

Take a walk at Lake Overholser or Lake Hefner, and it’s easy to see the toll the multiyear drought has taken on Oklahoma City’s drinking water supply.

Water levels at both north Oklahoma City reservoirs have dropped, leaving the lakes ringed by exposed mud flats that normally would be under water.

Now, city officials are working to move more water from reservoirs in the south, where it is more plentiful, to customers on the north side of the city.

From the Feb. 10 update of the U.S. Drought Monitor

U.S. Drought Monitor

From the Feb. 10 update of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Residents on the north side aren’t exactly pitted against their south side counterparts, but it’s interesting how closely Oklahoma City’s water problems reflect those of the entire state. Lakes the south relies on — Stanley Draper, with is fed by Lake Atoka and McGee Creek Reservoir in southeast Oklahoma — are doing fine, while the northern lakes — Overholser, Hefner, and Canton — all suffer badly.

For some, a solution to the greater Oklahoma water crisis would include pipelines to move water from where it’s plentiful to where it’s needed. A bill before the legislature now would study that very possibility. But that’s already the plan in Oklahoma City:

They plan to lay a 29-mile pipeline connecting the Lake Stanley Draper treatment plant with a booster station at W Reno Avenue and N Council Road, and another 7 miles of pipeline to connect the booster station with an elevated tank on Cemetery Road south of W Reno Avenue.

That pipeline will improve the ability to move water from where it’s most plentiful to residents in other areas, said Larry Hare, an engineer with the city’s utilities department.

“Trying to get water to everybody is our No. 1 priority,” Hare said.

The paper reports the 29-mile pipeline is about 75 percent complete and has cost nearly $70 million so far. That’s a mere pittance compared to the billion-plus dollar price tag of potential pipelines to carry water hundreds of miles across the state.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.


  • Jack Deth

    These Teabaggers will stand in a sand storm and deny there is any climate change.

    • FrackDaddy

      O boy its hot and dry in the south/southwest……. Call Al Gore!

    • MisterMax2000

      Oh wow, so the United States, much less the Southwest United States, has never had a drought before? Who knew? And the population of the United States and especially the population of the Southwest United States has more than doubled in the last 20 years. I guess that’s got nothing to do with the water shortage either huh? In short, name calling, especially moronic name calling, is the first refuge of the mentally deficient and politically poisonous. Both of which you have in abundance.

      • Jack Deth

        Narrow minded ignorant hypocrites is nothing new to deal with.

        • AmandaHiggs

          *are nothing new to deal with.

          Education….it takes your opinion and gives it a foundation to become an informed statement.

      • John Tata

        Is “moronic name calling” not “name calling?” You’ve successfully done exactly what you are criticizing others for doing. Your conclusion must therefore apply to you too.

        “In short, name calling, especially moronic name calling, is the first
        refuge of the mentally deficient and politically poisonous. Both of
        which you have in abundance.”

    • Mark Trull

      Hey Jack, without calling people names, can you tell me what was going on with the climate when a 1934 to 1939 drought caused the “dirty 30′s”?

      • Jack Deth

        Well as you must know over farming/tilling under all the natural grasslands which put the Dust Bowl in place for that decade.

        • Mark Trull

          so the lack of measureable rainfall and record temperatures for several years wasn’t a contributing factor?

          • Jack Deth

            That was worsen by the farming and is a well known fact.

          • Mark Trull

            it sucks when facts like rainfall and temperature records get in the way of GW’ers argument about how today’s weather events are a result of climate change. Predictions like record tornado and hurricane seasons, ski resorts going bankrupt because the lack of snow, coastlines disappearing, species disappearing have yet to be proven. The globe has cooled and warmed for thousands of years, and it will continue to do so, long after we are gone. We need to take care of the earth, but not make foolish decisions based on a cult prophecy that is driven by a need to create a revenue stream for researchers and poorer countries that would rely on developed nation’s extortion payments.

          • Jack Deth

            Are you really that slow on the up take? Or do you like being obtuse?

          • Mark Trull

            Dispute the fact that today’s record breaking weather events are possible because the records that are being broken are typically from 50, 60 sometimes over a hundred years ago. But, I’ll give you a cookie, tell me what was happening about 10,000 years ago that caused the glaciers to melt in our northeast to form the Great Lakes?

          • Jack Deth

            So now you want more heat not less? Geezzz someone is confused.

          • Mark Trull

            Jack, modern pharmacology is a great thing, I hope you take advantage of it.

          • Jack Deth

            I understand that Obamacare has great mental health features you should check them out.

          • james

            obola care sucks as you well know $5000 deductible $50 co pays

          • Jack Deth

            Sounds like you screwed up. I don’t have that problem.

          • Lisa Haase

            Oh good grief. You two sound 5 year olds. Jack, you really did start it with name calling and curt, snarky answers.

          • aroundthehouse

            how old are you snot nose

          • aroundthehouse

            That what im talking about Kids aint lived long enough to learn nothin

          • Pro-Thorium

            Ice core Data from 10,000 years ago show increased CO2 levels from Volcano eruptions producing the end of the latest ice age. Science gives answers that are easily understood if studied.! Flat-Earth mentality pervades science deniers such as R—Jim Inhofe.& Tom Coburn.

        • gwayne

          Sodbusting did have its consequences, but who needs water/food when the oil is more important for petroleum corporation profits and dividends. America will remain mostly ignorant of the bigger problem till the worst arrives and then it will really be TOO LATE.

      • victorsteerup

        It was a MILLION WATTS of commercial AM radio energy that inadvertently influenced the weather during the heyday of AM radio in America. See HAARP experiments to influence weather anywhere in the world as a weapon.

    • RHO1953

      Spit the scrotum out of your own mouth and try and understand that Oklahoma has ALWAYS been arid. A sand storm in a desert isn’t proof of climate change, moron.

      • http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma Joe Wertz

        Jack: Can we keep things civil in here? Please?

    • http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma Joe Wertz

      Let’s try to keep the discussion civil and productive here, folks. I generally don’t like deleting comments or playing discussion cop — and rarely have to — but let’s try to be nice to eachother, OK?

  • MisterMax2000

    A very common sense approach to the stretching of the country’s resources would be to stop letting millions of illegals from coming here and especially, STOP making them legal residents. Even more, deport the tens of millions already here. How much more intelligence does it require than that? But the Democrats and liberals would rather destroy the country and the quality of life just so they can stay in power and play their country destroying politics. “Pathetic” is a word that comes to mind.

    • Jack Deth

      With that sort of idea hell we could send all the Teabag Bircher Republikans to fight ISSI which no pun intended would kill many birds with one stone.

    • gwayne

      Yes, bring on the hungry masses that will change the lifestyles that we have become so accustomed to and change our properties into trash dumps that will pollute our groundwater as they have done in Mejico, donjuno mang…

    • Robert A. Little

      Oddly, it was the “conservatives” who killed the Bracero program that legally allowed Mexican agricultural workers to pick our food. After that, those same conservatives ensured that no federal law was passed making it illegal for a business to hire an illegal, thus creating a massive illegal migration north into the United States, driving up rentals, lowering middle class wages and in general doing God’s work – shrinking and weakening the middle class while at the same time assuring that those same out-of-work former workers blamed Democrats. Good going, dupe.

      • aroundthehouse

        Actually it was the unions who didn’t like the competition. George Meany being one. Weather he was a republican or a democrat doesn’t matter much, what maters is the conservatives was not a word back then so where do you get this sh#$ from. What really matters is this the Bracero program was good for America but it exploited the Mexicans by subjecting them to less then humane labor conditions. In these days and ages it could be a good thing because we are getting better at protecting the rights of people Robert A. Little would not be able to do the work of ½ of a breccro Truth be known very few people responding to this post couldn’t handle it

    • AFSOCS

      Or, just a thought here, but how about stopping the gas companies from using up all the clean water for fracking and contaminating the ground water. There are articles discussing how the farmers out west even had to compete with the gas companies for water resources and were forced to cut down on their farming acreage because they couldn’t afford financially to compete with big oil/gas to buy up water allotment credits. That may be a better place to start.

    • richard Grabowski

      Wow, bigot much?

    • Bill Henry

      Actually, it is a general overpopulation of the entire planet. Sao Paulo Brazil with 20 million people is in imminent danger of being completely dry, and of course our western states situation will likely be determined by the end of this summer. We use water for drinking of course, but we need it to wash clothes/dishes,vehicles, water grass/plants, bathe, bathe dogs, etc., etc. Every single human uses and uses water, produces waste by the ton, and pollutes by the ton. Every single new child born is literally not a blessing, rather another “nail in the coffin” for all of us already here! I think abortion is about the dumbest thing us humans do, but, how many MILLIONS more people would we have in this country if it were not legalized? We already would be seriously water shorted and garbage filled, not to mention the massive traffic problems we would now be seeing. This is not sustainable, we must change drastically now, or the future will not exist.

    • jack

      People are quick to blame illegal immigrants for every problem. The reality is that water usage by people for drinking. cooking and personal usage is a small part if the water used. Most of the water used is by farming and other industrial uses. Fracking is a big one.

  • Dreamer

    From reading the comments below I hope that the Climate History of Oklahoma from 1915 to 2015 just might shed some light on the water problem. . .

    • gwayne

      Don`t count on it.

  • RHO1953

    Maybe putting millions of people in a desert wasn’t such a good idea. Kinda like building your house right next to the Mississippi River and then complaining when you get flooded.

  • gwayne

    Don`t worry because there will be enough water to continue fracking and when they are finished polluting the water, they will purify it enough and sell it back to you for $2 a bottle.

    • AmandaHiggs

      a vast part of “Desani” water comes from oklahoma.


      • Royal Star

        When I drive my motorcycle in the summer in Okla. when I go past a pasture or a green summer crop its like the air-conditioner is on. After driving through vast areas of farmland where the ground is turned up brown it’s like sticking your head in a oven. If a cold front tries to come through, the massive heat reflective upward just wipes-out any chance the cold front could give showers and relief to parched Western Oklahoma.

  • mr magoo

    It’s nice to know we can pump tar sands oil from Canada. Water would be more helpful especially to the southwest. You decide witch is more essential.

  • richard Grabowski

    This reminds me of a movie so many silly Americans who do not understand wealth disparity, climate change, greed, partisan politics, etc. – need to watch so they can understand what actually happened in history and what is likely going to happen in the future as history repeats itself.

    For a fun filled couple of hours watch – “The Grapes of Wrath” and find peace and comfort in the knowledge that America has seen this and done it all before, this may help when you are eating beans out of a can on the side of the railroad tracks.

    Or better yet for those among us who can actually read, try reading the book by John Steinbeck. You might also check out Babbitt (a person and especially a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards) and Main Street (Lewis’s depiction of the real small town America) by Sinclair Lewis to understand what the effects of wealth disparity and robber barons will mean to you and yours.

  • karl yossarian

    a more common sense solution would be to stop wasteing billions of gallons fracking, especially since it has created non stop earthquakes in the state,you GOP morons just dont want to see how youre destroying this country

  • GL

    Do not understand the gross stupidity of our leaders and politicians. Seems that if there is no money it for them nothing gets done. I can see some political issues and money problems from pumping water from East to West but within the state I don’t get it. An example is TX where some parts of the state get floods almost on schedule and other parts are in a draught. Piping water is not a health hazard i.e. oil, and construction of one or more pipelines should have been included in the state budget years ago before this crises. But true to form, most state gov’t and especially our Feds wait for disaster before they will do anything. I suspect that is when they are receptive to deep pockets.

  • Idocare

    well through out this whole drought, the oil company’s have had no problems finding the 2 million gallons + required to frac an oil well in Oklahoma. Sure drought has played a part, but I say mismanagement of State officials and a 2% tax on these oil company’s has created the states biggest problem.

  • Mike Bee

    We can buy oil and natural gas from all over the world, so it would be better to use our local water for drinking and agriculture rather than fracking. The fracking water problem is twofold: first it takes the water out of the system andsecond then dumps back in polluted water that can make what they don’t take useless for human or agricultural consumption.

  • james

    you assume incorrectly i work and have insurance- however the hospital i work at deals with covered Kalifornia and i have a couple of friends on the plans its no where close to what was touted – they couldnt keep their doctor nor their hospital of prefrence

  • Pro-Thorium

    Alvin Wienburg developed the LFTR Thorium based Molten Salt Reactor that Burns the spent Fuel Rods from Light Water Reactors now used in USA. LWR burns 7% of Uranium,LFTR Reactors Burn 97% of fuel,allowing use of spent fuel rods to be used for fuel.High temp of LFTR allows use of waste heat to run desalination plants along with Power production. Google LFTR in 5-min.

    • This Ain’t Kyle

      Alvin Weinberg (you should spell it correctly) developed the Molten Salt Reactor, not the LFTR. The LFTR was/is the creation of Kirk Sorensen, and is a badass reactor, and is based on the MSR which Weinberg developed at Oak Ridge – the difference is in which fuel gets burned. The LFTR burns Thorium, the MSR is a generic term for salt-cooled reactors that can burn either Thorium or Uranium. Get your facts straight if you’re going to put yourself out there as a Thorium advocate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_M._Weinberg#Molten_salt_reactors

  • Not happy

    We (Oklahoman’s) have been in a drought for at least the last three years and OKC has not been restricting any water! You guys just think you are going to take water from Canton because that is what you always do. Um HELLO there isn’t enough water in Canton lake anymore. You saw to that 2 years ago when you took half our lake. Then the spring rains came and you released 3 times as much as you took from Canton Lake. Someone on your water board needs to be fired! Canton Lake is/was a great vacation spot and it is what brings people to the small towns around it. OKC has killed these small communities because their lack of water restrictions. No you don’t need to water your lawns in the winter! Come on people use you brains just a little please.

  • YMb

    I am willing to do my part to conserve water by replacing my Bermuda grass with a wildflower meadow, less watering ,less herbicides…. but HOA rules will not let me.

  • Rachel Lowe

    How about that rain now? Those teabaggers understand that climate does change and that it is beyond humans ability to control Mother Nature and God.

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