Short of torrential downpours that dramatically increase the elevation in area lakes, City of Lawton water customers will see mandatory restrictions put on their outdoor water use by Thanksgiving.
The City Council unanimously approved a new policy last week that requires the city to weigh the elevations of Lakes Lawtonka, Ellsworth and Waurika when determining whether outdoor water use restrictions are voluntary or mandatory, and that sets an earlier cutoff time for when people are allowed to use water outdoors. Because the newly amended ordinance has a 30-day effective date, that means its provisions will go into effect 30 days after the Oct. 23 council meeting.
Public Works Director Jerry Ihler said the new policy reflects a hard reality in a year of exceptional drought: It is unrealistic to base outdoor watering restrictions on a lake that provides the least amount of usable raw water. Now, the policy that governs when residents use water for landscaping and other outdoor activities is based on the elevation of Lake Lawtonka, often considered the city's primary lake because it is the direct feeder for the Medicine Park Water Treatment Plant, the plant that provides 80 percent of Lawton's and all of Fort Sill's treated water. Lawtonka is 6.13 feet below the top of its floodgates, and, under the long-existing policy, that places the city in Stage 1 voluntary conservation, meaning water customers may or may not comply with suggested conservation measures.
Continuing under the current policy means Lawtonka would have to lose almost 4 more feet of water (down to 1,335 feet elevation) before Lawton moves into Stage 2, the mandatory conservation mode that requires water customers to go to an every-other-day water usage and only between the hours of midnight and noon.
Ihler said relying solely on Lawtonka to set outdoor watering restrictions gives Lawton a false sense of security, that its raw water supply is safe when it may not be.
Ihler noted the majority of Comanche County and the watersheds feeding Lawtonka, Ellsworth and Waurika lakes are classified as being in extreme drought, while other sections of Oklahoma, including a chunk of far Southwest Oklahoma, are in the exceptional category, the most severe drought rating. Ihler also pointed out the swiftness with which the drought classification could change. While 66.75 percent of the state is classified in extreme drought, only 15.48 percent of the state held that extreme rating three months ago.
Effect on lakes
Drought affects the three lakes that supply raw water for Lawton's two water treatment plants, and differences in location and compositions of the watersheds mean weather has had a different effect on them.
For example, Lawtonka and Ellsworth both have a foot more of water in them today than they had at the same time in 2011. Based on readings done Oct. 22, Lawtonka was 1.3 feet higher than it was on Oct. 22, 2011, meaning it was holding 2,750 acre feet more of water. Ellsworth also was 1.3 feet higher in elevation than it was on Oct. 22, 2011, or 5,300 acre feet more of water.