The Altus City Council held a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 15, in Council Chambers of the Municipal Complex to discuss the current water situation at Tom Steed Reservoir and Lake Lugert Altus. They also approved to enter into a contract with an attorney to help with lease negotiations at the Round Timber Well Field.
“We don’t need to panic. We are in a crisis, but be calm,” said Emergency Management Official Lloyd Colston with the City of Altus, as he updated Council on drought conditions.
According to Colston, the City of Altus alone does not meet State requirements for a Federal Disaster Declaration, but the City has recorded having spent nearly $300,000 in drought related infrastructure repairs. “If our neighbors in the Texas panhandle and all the way to Grandfield will document the drought impact in their community, and if it meets the county threshold in their county, then those collective dollars meet the state threshold, the state can then petition the President of the United States For a Disaster Declaration.”
Following Colston, Lugert-Altus Irrigation District Manager Tom Buchanan provided trends from Lake Lugert Altus illustrating future water levels at the lake, currently at 13% of capacity. First Buchanan provided statistics from 66 years showing the average monthly water inflow into the lake highlighting the months of April, May, and June. On average, the Lake has received 10,000 acre-feet (ac/ft) of water in April, 26,000 ac/ft in May, and 18,000 ac/ft in June.
“It’s more than reasonable expectation that we will get adequate inflow in April, May, and June to take care of our needs, not only for irrigation purposes but for the City of Altus,” Buchanan said. Buchanan then presented Lake Lugert’s water levels and corresponding rainfalls from 2011, 2012, and 2013, illustrating the short-term picture of water inflow.
Two years ago on Aug. 15, 2011, there was 25,838 ac/ft of storage in Lake Lugert with a rainfall of 31 inches with no inflow. In Aug. 2012, there was 26,317 ac/ft with a rainfall of 21 inches and no inflow. Today it holds only 18,042 ac/ft with this year’s little rainfall. According to Buchanan, an average of 75 ac/ft is lost daily from evaporation.
Buchanan supplied Council with a few more facts including water storage for the City is 4,800 ac/ft per year. “As of today we have delivered 18-20% of that,” Buchanan informed. Of the water sent from Lugert, approximately 82% reached the City’s reservoir. “That went much more efficiently than I ever dreamed it would,” he said.
Altus Mayor David Webb estimated that current water production provided to the City is approximately 4,500 ac/ft, which is within the 4,800 ac/ft of their allocation from Lugert without even drawing from Lake Tom Steed. “That’s at our current production, in the summertime, with conservation,” Webb said. “And I can’t state enough, the conservation efforts are working. They’re having a dramatic impact.”
At a later time during the meeting, Buchanan pointed out the possibility of using water from Southeast Oklahoma as a possible resource. Buchanan stated that although the ground waters belong to the land owner, surface water belongs to Oklahoma. “Surface water belongs to each and every one of us,” Buchanan said. “That’s surface water running out of those lakes today in southeast Oklahoma, is a resource that belongs to Oklahoma that we’re wasting. It’s an extreme dis-service were doing to the citizens of Oklahoma.” Buchanan explained that moving water across state already occurs today in Oklahoma and other parts of the county.
Members of the City Council and Buchanan discussed the feasibly of getting and treating water from other areas of Southwest Oklahoma before giving the floor to representatives from the Mountain Park Master Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation.
“You’re at the top of our list,” said Will Archer, Manager of the Mountain Park Master Conservancy District. “We’re going to do everything we can to identify how long we have, and what we have to do, and we’re looking into several different options.” Tom Steed is currently at 1,397.26 ft of elevation, around 30% capacity, Archer informed.
Matt Warren, Supervisor at the Bureau of Reclamation provided a model projecting the depletion of Tom Steed Reservoir based on conservation efforts and under continuing drought conditions as seen in the past 12 months. According to the model, if all cities drawing on their allocation from Tom Steed conserve by 30%, depletion will not occur before July of 2015. If by 60%, depletion will not occur before November 2016. Altus is currently around 60% conservation of their allocation.
The City Council then voted to hire an attorney to help with lease negotiations for the Round Timber Well Field and also for negotiations in dealing with future projects. Most of the lease is very clear but, Council Dwayne Martin stated, and that negotiations have taken place since January and have been unable to come to a final agreement.
“I think a specialized water attorney in Texas can help us achieve that,” Martin said. In addition, he feels that there are other potential water sources in Texas and hiring an attorney would be valuable to the City. After further discussion, Council voted to enter into a contract with Marvin Jones, attorney with Sprouse Shrader & Smith Law Firm of Amarillo, Texas, as a legal representative for the City.
After the City Council discussed amendments to an Emergency Ordinance outlining provisions on water restrictions, the item was tabled until the Sept. 2, regular meeting of the City Council.