Stillwater News Press

Local News

March 24, 2013

Area towns, resident face life without water

Lone Chimney Lake drops to lowest level since it as built in 1985.

Cattleman Mark Fuss spent $8,000 to drill two wells on his sprawling ranch about 10 miles east of Stillwater, gambling he would strike water.

Don and Nancy Griffin of Yale are watering their trees and plants with rainwater collected in two 50-gallon barrels.

Yale’s 1,250 residents are bracing for a summer in which they might have to boil water for drinking, if the town can even muster enough pumping power to deliver well water to faucets.

Across the rolling farm and ranch lands of the Lone Chimney Water District, residents are coping with one of the most severe water shortages in Oklahoma. Lone Chimney Lake, the only water supply for customers in four counties, has dropped to its lowest level since 1985, when the lake was created with the damming of Camp Creek.

Payne County commissioners have issued a declaration of emergency. Town officials are scrambling for backup water sources. The district’s 16,000 customers nervously await the day that Lone Chimney Lake has no more water to deliver.

Help is on the way, as construction crews are building a 12-mile pipeline from Stillwater’s water treatment plant to Lone Chimney’s water distribution system. But the project isn’t expected to be finished until July or August.

“I’m worried,” said Carl Hensley, one of the Lone Chimney Water Association’s nine board members. “We’re running out of water quickly.”

Lone Chimney’s plight is an extreme example of the impact of Oklahoma’s severe drought. But the ways residents are adapting could foreshadow what many other Oklahomans will be forced to do, on their own or by mandate, should the three-year-old drought persist.

Despite rain and snow in February, most of the state remains in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought status. Farm ponds throughout central and western Oklahoma are dry for the first time in decades; lake levels have plummeted. Some cities have enacted mandatory water restrictions, such as assigning even or odd lawn-watering days. State and local officials have urged people to conserve water, publicizing ways to do so.

The efforts may work well with some, less so with others. In the Lone Chimney area, pleas for conservation are bolstered by the very real fact that access to any water is in jeopardy, at least until the pipeline is built. That means residents have become a test case of sorts for how much people will adjust their use of water when faced with a crisis.

Not that all are engaged. “I’m sure a lot of people still don’t know what’s about to happen,” Hensley said.

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