The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is one step closer to clean water after commissioners voted Monday to approve annexation by Rural Water District 4.
“This is just the first step into getting water up there,” District 3 Commissioner Alvin Cargill said. “I would anticipate construction to begin in the next 90 days.”
Cargill also said the federal government would provide funds for the expansion without any money coming from county coffers.
The proposal to annex the refuge was introduced in early July and is intended to solve a problem visitors and staff face with securing drinkable water. Health officials said the water from the wells that serve the refuge cannot be used without first boiling it because water sampling found all the wells are contaminated with E. coli.
The approved annexation will bring a 15.22-mile water supply line into the refuge, starting 3 miles west of Cache on U.S. 62 and running north on Oklahoma 115. Approximately 9 miles of the line would be located on refuge property. The plan specifies eight meters and all related lines, with meter locations to include Refuge Headquarters, the Visitor Center, Holy City, Camp Doris, and five other sites, said rural water district officials.
Refuge officials have been exploring options since 2017 and according to attorney Shane McLaury, “the only real option we have” is securing water from Comanche County Rural Water District 4, which is headquartered in Cache, he said when he presented the proposal in early June. But, providing water means the refuge would have to be within the rural water district, which is why the petition for annexation for the refuge was filed. McLaury was acting through the Department of Interior, United Region 6, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Refuge System, which is the owner of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Cargill anticipates work on the new lines and meters to begin within 90 days with the U.S. Department of the Interior paying for the project.