Ponca City officials start discussion on Kaw Lake water rights

Ponca City Now - June 1, 2016 3:54 pm

By Beverly Bryant/News Director

Ponca City’s Board of Commissioners spent a special work session on Tuesday talking about the city’s future water needs, specifically in regards to the city’s water rights to Kaw Lake.

Commissioners heard a presentation Tuesday on three options for claiming water from Kaw Lake in the future.

"The most recent drought has brought this conversation to the forefront, as we have watched the nationwide drought march eastward," City Manager Craig Stephenson said.

The City of Enid, some 60 miles to the west, has secured water rights in Kaw Lake and is in the process of engineering a project to move 20 million gallons of raw water a day from Kaw Lake to Enid for its municipal purposes, Stephenson said. That project will cost Enid $451 million.

Enid had relinquished its rights to the lake’s water in 2000 when city planners believed an expansion of Enid’s well field would be sufficient to meet that city’s water needs. More recent engineering studies showed that aquifers in the Enid area were declining because of increasing demands for water.

Ponca City, on the other hand, has seen its well field recharged after the most recent drought.City officials have never had to order water rationing because supplies have always exceeded demand here.

Ponca City’s water supply currently comes from local well fields. Lake Ponca serves as a backup source if needed, but the city also has had water rights to Kaw Lake for decades. Those rights have not been exercised because the current water supply has been sufficient for the city.

Ponca City was issued a permit in 1994 authorizing the city the right to use 14,031 acre feet per year from Kaw Lake. That original permit contained a schedule of use which would allow the city to take incremental amounts from the lake starting in 2004.

The permit was amended in 2004, postponing the initial use of Kaw Lake water to 2014. Ponca City requested another revision in the schedule in 2013, which would postpone the initial use of Kaw Lake water to 2024, but there has been no response from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board on that request.

"It is the need and responsibility of this commission to be looking 10, 20, 30 years down the road," Mayor Homer Nicholson said. "We need to do our due diligence while we are here and not be oblivious to the water supply or lack thereof."

"There are three wellfields Ponca City utilizes," Stephenson said. "They are the East Wellfield, which lies closest to the Arkansas River, the Mid Wellfield and the West Wellfield, which lies just east of Ponca City’s water plant."

He said the East Wellfield dropped between 4 and 6 feet from July 2009 to July 2012, and by July 2015 most of the wells were only 1.5 to 2 feet below the 2009 levels.

"We are seeing a recovery to these wellfields as they are recharged mainly by the Arkansas River as well as rainfall," Stephenson said. "Our current water supply has served the community well over Ponca City’s history. We have not had a need to ration water over our history and we didn’t need to during the most recent drought."

City staff hired an engineering firm to provide cost estimates on three possible scenarios on accessing Kaw Lake water for Ponca City’s water supply, he said.

Hong Fu, the Director of Environmental Services, said Ponca City currently has three permits for water use from the OWRB. They include:

  • A stream water permit to Lake Ponca, allowing 2,529 acre feet of water per year, or 2.26 million gallons per day. Lake Ponca is a supplemental raw water supply.
  • A groundwater permit to the three wellfields east of Ponca City, allowing 14,048.6 acre feet per year, or 12.54 million gallons per day. This is Ponca City’s main raw water supply.
  • A stream water permit to Kaw Lake which would allow 14,031 acre feet per year, or 12.53 million gallons per day. This option has never been exercised.

Fu outlined the infrastructure needs for each of the three scenarios to move water from Kaw Lake to Ponca City’s water treatment plant. The three plans each have a different capacity of water that could be moved from the lake.

Currently, Ponca City and Stillwater are partners which co-own a valve controlling water flow from the lake. Stillwater relies on Kaw Lake as its municipal water supply.

In two of the scenarios, Ponca City would use that valve and build a 36-inch pipeline approximately 8.2 miles long. The capacity of each of these two scenarios is different and the costs would be $61 million or $54 million.

The third scenario involves partnering with the City of Enid on its pipeline project to a delivery point south of Ponca City. The infrastructure would include a modern intake structure instead of the 40-year-old intake structure in the other two plans. This would require about 15.2 miles of pipeline and would cost at least $67 million, plus the purchase of easements and new pressure reduction infrastructure at the water treatment plant.

But, city officials said, the cost of building the infrastructure to move the water to Ponca City is not the only expense in accessing the water. Not by a long shot.

Ponca City also owes $7,618,000 to the Army Corps of Engineers as a storage fee for the water the city has a right to. City Attorney Michael V anderburg explained that storage fee is a proportional share of the cost of construction and maintenance of Kaw Lake since it was built 50 years ago. Any community that accesses water from Kaw Lake must have an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We can’t own surface water, but we can own the bowl it’s in," Vanderburg said. "That fee pays the Corps for the bowl, and that cost will continue every year."

City Finance Director Marc LaBossiere also spoke about the detailed costs involved on paying for any of the possible scenarios outlined at the meeting. After he explained the kind of debt allowed for a municipality and the restrictions, he gave a "for instance" explanation of what one of the scenarios would cost.

If Scenario 2 was chosen, with a cost of about $55 million, and the life of a loan was 25 years at an interest rate of 3.5 percent, the annual debt service requirement would be $3.32 million per year, he said.

"This would mean an across-the-board rate increase of 43 percent at the onset to cover this project," he said.

Mayor Nicholson responded to that in his closing remarks.

"A 43 percent increase is not very palatable, but like Blackwell, if you’re down to your last few drops, you’d be happy to pay 50 percent," he said. "We’ve had many conversations about a regional water system for the entire county. We’re aware of our neighbors and their concerns, as well as looking forward for Ponca City."

Stephenson said staff wanted to use the occasion to provide valid, correct factual data so there could be conversations about Ponca City’s water supply over the next 20 to 30 years.

"It’s a lot of information," he said.


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