Commission discusses Kaw Lake water rights issues

Ponca City Now - August 4, 2015 4:43 pm

By Beverly Bryant/News Director

Since the end of the drought of the past several years, Ponca City’s average day demand and maximum day demand have decreased, Ponca City Environmental Services Director Hong Fu told the City Commission Monday afternoon.

Commissioners discussed Ponca City’s water use and supply during its work session. The discussion was due, in part, to the City of Enid acquiring 20,000 acre feet of water rights to Kaw Lake. Enid has plans to build a 48-inch pipeline from Kaw Lake to the east side of Enid, and other cities are looking to make connections to that line, City Manager Craig Stephenson said.

Fu said Ponca City has three water rights permitted by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. They include a stream water permit to Lake Ponca, which the city owns in its entirety. The city also owns a groundwater permit to a well field from Kaw Dam to the east part of Ponca City, and another stream water permit to Kaw Lake. This permit has never been exercised, she said.

The stream water permit for Lake Ponca provides 2,529 acre feet of water per year, or 2.26 million gallons of water a day. The lake’s water is considered a supplemental raw water supply.

The well field groundwater permit provides 14,048.6 acre feet per year, which equals 12.54 million gallons of water a day. This well field is Ponca City’s main raw water supply, Fu said.

The Kaw Lake stream water permit would provide 14,031 acre feet per year, or 12.53 million gallons of water per day. This is the permit that has not been exercised.

Peak water demand was in 2012, when both the average day demand and the maximum day demand was at their highest levels. That year average day demand was 9.35 million gallons per day, and maximum day demand was 14.86 million gallons per year. These numbers were from data collected by Fu’s office.

“Both increased during the drought and decreased when the drought ended,” Fu told commissioners.

“One could conclude Ponca City has enough water rights to meet demand. However, the Kaw Lake permit is not secure. Ponca City co-owns the valve with the City of Stillwater. The elevation of that valve is about 25 feet higher than Lake Ponca,” she said.

To use the Kaw Lake water, an entity must create a contract with Corps of Engineers, she said, and currently only OG&E and Stillwater have exercised a contract for water rights.

Fu said a permit was issued in 1994 which authorized Ponca City to divert a maximum of 14,031 acre feet per year from one point in the Kaw Reservoir. That permit contained a schedule of use for incremental use starting by 2004, with the city taking 20 percent of its allocation that year.

The schedule was amended in 2004 to allow Ponca City to postpone its initial use to 2014.

Fu said that in 2013, Ponca City requested another revision of schedule, to postpone the initial use to 2024.

“The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has not responded to that request,” she said. “We may lose 20 percent of our Kaw Lake water rights.”

The contract in 2004 called for 20 percent use by 2014, 40 percent by 2029, 60 percent by 2044, 80 percent by 2059 and 100 percent by 2074.

Fu said the amount of water available seems to be more than enough to provide for Ponca City’s allocation. Last Tuesday, there was an elevation of 1,080 feet.

“At that elevation, there is more than 483,000 acre feet of water in Kaw,” Fu said.

She said there is a steep cost with securing water rights.

“The first cost is the storage fee to the Corps of Engineers,” she said. “To secure Ponca City’s water rights, our original storage fee in April 1986 was $2,943,992. By April 2015 it is $7,380,545 for storage fees.”

Ponca City has never paid storage fees since it has not drawn its initial allocation. Interest compounds annually at 3.22 percent, Fu said.

In order to draw water from Kaw Lake, there would be substantial infrastructure needs, she said.

They include building a 42-inch transmission main and fittings; a SCADA control system at the water treatment plant and a monitoring unit at Kaw Lake; an ozone pretreatment system at the Kaw Lake intake; flow control, isolation and air release valves.

Also required are upgrades to the water treatment plant including an additional clarifier, improvements to the solids handling facility, additional chlorine contact volume and other upgrades. Ponca City also would have to develop and implement a control plan for Zebra Mussels.

The cost of all those improvements, according to MKEC, a consulting firm, would be approximately $17,311,000 in 2007 dollars, Fu said. Other costs for engineering, construction and contingency costs would be more than $8.2 million in 2007 dollars, she said.

Ponca City has never rationed water, in the 90 years the city has provided water to its residents.

Fu’s estimates from a 2007 study by MKEC indicates Ponca City’s groundwater rights from the well field will meet the average day demand through 2055. In that time, Ponca City would have to add seven replacement wells averaging 800 gallons per minute. Five wells have been installed with a total capacity of 3,500 gallons per minute. Well No. 6 is being designed now.

Fu said that from 2009 to 2015, the water level in four wells has dropped seven feet in Ponca City’s west well field. Levels have remained static in the east well field and has almost recovered from the drought.

Water rights differ between groundwater and stream or surface water.

City Attorney Michael Vanderburg said once purchased, groundwater rights belong the the purchasing body.

“Stream water rights are controlled by the Oklahoma Water Resource Board,” he said. “Those rights quite possibly could be removed for us because we did not take what was our right. We don’t have an agreement with Corps of Engineers to pay the storage fees – it has a scheduled use attached to it. We have 14,000 acre feet of groundwater which are ours.

“Ground water is like a mineral on your land to dispose of as you see fit. Surface water belongs to State of Oklahoma or to the Indian Nations. Cities can own the bowl, but the Corps of Engineers owns Kaw’s bowl.”

Vandeburg said the OWRB doesn’t monitor how much water is use and there’s never any enforcement, which is why the western part of the state is losing aquifers and springs.

“One of the most critical pieces is groundwater is yours; surface water has a scheduled use attached to it,” he said. “When there are multiple entities in the pool, the earlier permit holders have a greater right than later permit holders. We have prior right over Enid. We, the City of Stillwater and OG&E all do. Losing your right to priorities may be an issue we have to deal with. It may be critical for us to maintain our place as a permit holder.”

Fu said Ponca City has never had any conversation to secure that water right with the Corps to establish the contract.

“We have to look way down the road,” Mayor Homer Nicholson said. “I try not to be reactionary. Things have changed in our area. There is the potential of pollution and earthquakes . Those crazy things have happened. We need a Plan B on everything. This is a $7 million Plan B.”

He said the information provided during the work session was just information and education about the possible scenarios.

“This is a chance to lay out food for thought for the commission to think about,” he said.


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