The City of Stillwater is asking residents to continue conserving water as its treatment system recovers from an interruption in its raw water supply.
Stillwater’s supply of raw water was temporarily cut off early Thursday morning when the pump station at Kaw Lake froze for the second time in a week.
The situation was resolved within a few hours, but it will take some time for the amount of water the city holds in storage to be replaced. In the meantime, Oklahoma State University is helping Stillwater meet the demand for treated water.
City leaders emphasized that Oklahoma State University was the key to preventing at least some customers from experiencing a service outage.
OSU is putting 2 million gallons of treated water per day into the City of Stillwater’s system for as long as it’s needed, as long as it’s able, Bill Millis, Water Utilities director for the City of Stillwater, said. That water has been critical in meeting Stillwater’s demand as its storage facilities refill.
“Without OSU’s help, we would have seen significant water outages for our customers,” City Manager Norman McNickle said in a city release. “President Burns Hargis and the entire OSU team deserve our utmost gratitude. They really came to our rescue. Through our mutual aid agreements with OSU, we can quickly support each other in times of need.”
The City of Stillwater and OSU operate their own water treatment plants and have an agreement to provide each other with treated water in case of an emergency. The two systems are connected for that reason.
McNickle said this is the first time he can remember it being necessary, but he is extremely grateful for OSU’s help in averting a water shortage.
Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce said, “We appreciate OSU helping us through this crisis. It is yet another example of the many ways the City and OSU partner and support each other to protect and serve our community.”
Millis told the News Press the problem was a combination of higher than normal usage for this time of year – possibly because people are dripping their faucets to avoid frozen pipes, coupled with water leaks from pipes that have already frozen – and having the raw water supply cut off for a number of hours.
The 4-million gallon raw water tank at the treatment plant got critically low when water stopped flowing into the plant from the Kaw pipeline. The level of treated water stored in tanks around the city to keep pressure up in certain zones also dropped.
The city’s system was gaining ground Thursday evening but Millis said it wasn’t happening as fast as he would like. The city’s water storage has been depleted and it will take time to replenish because people are using more water than normal for winter.
“Demand went way up at the same time our ability to get water there went down,” Millis said. “But that’s exactly why you have it.”
Some customers may notice a difference in their water pressure because the tanks aren’t full, he said. In addition to city residents, the City of Stillwater serves several rural water districts who may notice a temporary drop in pressure, as well, McNickle said.
Millis said he hoped the replenishment rate would pick up overnight. If residents will continue to take some basic conservation measures for the next few days, it should help things get back to normal faster.
Stillwater’s problem began when all five of the pumps that deliver its raw water supply froze Wednesday night during a power outage in the Ponca City area.
Kaw Lake, which supplies about 2.4 billion gallons of water per year to Stillwater and its rural water customers, is located about 10 miles east of Ponca City in Kay County. Water is pumped from Kaw Lake through 36 miles of pipeline to the Stillwater’s water treatment plant. McNickle said the power went out at Kaw Lake around 3:30 a.m.
The City of Stillwater has a double back-up system at the Kaw pump station with a diesel-powered generator that should kick on automatically when power is interrupted. The generator is meant to buy enough time for a crew to drive to the pump station and manually switch to a secondary power supplier.
But the generator didn’t start because extended below-freezing temperatures had turned its fuel to gel. So the pumps sat idle, not generating any heat through their operation, and temperatures were still low enough to freeze them by the time the crew arrived at Kaw Lake.
McNickle said he learned about the frozen pumps around 5:30 a.m.
Two of the five pumps had been restored by about 6:30 a.m. but the water system is playing a game of catch-up, that was complicated by a large water line break at 19th Avenue and Jardot Road.
That leak has been addressed, but McNickle said he’s expecting more leaks as pipes that froze over the past few weeks begin to thaw over the next few days.
Stillwater avoided a similar situation Monday when the pumps at Kaw Lake froze up, this time due to sub-zero temperatures. A city crew made the hour drive over snow-packed roads and was able to use propane heat to thaw the two pumps used during the winter.
Stillwater isn’t the only community struggling with weather-related water issues.
On Thursday, the City of Norman warned residents to use water sparingly as it worked to repair systems at its water treatment plant. The water utility was supplying residents from municipal wells and storage towers, leading to low pressure across the city. A complete shutoff was not necessary Thursday but Norman residents were asked to open cabinet doors and use space heaters to keep pipes from freezing instead of dripping their faucets and to avoid using appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, in addition to standard conservation measures like taking short showers and shutting the faucet off while brushing our teeth.
Residents of Blackwell were advised Thursday to boil their water to make it safe for drinking and cooking or use bottled water until further notice. City of Blackwell crews were repairing multiple line breaks that caused low water pressure and possible contamination of water lines in the town.
Stillwater is still experiencing below freezing temperatures and residents can continue to drip faucets to prevent frozen pipes, city officials said.
For more information regarding the City of Stillwater’s winter weather plans, go to http://stillwater.org/news/view/id/678.
Ways to conserve water:
• Avoiding long showers or filling up baths
• Turning off faucets while washing your hands or brushing your teeth
• Waiting to run large appliances like washing machines and dishwashers
• Fixing leaks as quickly as possible