Western lawmakers are upset over OKC Canton Lake water
Oklahoma City is taking an additional 30,000 acre-feet of water from Canton Lake which would only be a temporary fix for Oklahoma City’s water woes, but the immediate and long-term impact on western Oklahoma would be devastating, with repercussions for the entire state, said State Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward.
He urged Oklahoma City officials to be better stewards of the resource – and better neighbors to Western Oklahoma.
Due to the two-year drought, the state’s largest city announced watering limits in January, but Marlatt said that move was really too little, too late. It was reported that the city’s water utilities department will present plans for more aggressive conservation measures, including higher prices and increased rationing, over the next few weeks. Marlatt said those should be enacted before taking water from western Oklahoma.
“Everyone knows we are in a prolonged drought, and cutting back on outdoor watering in the dead of winter really isn’t a solution. Oklahoma City’s ultimate plan is a huge draw on Canton Lake, the main recreational lake in western Oklahoma, but this is essentially going to kill our lake,” Marlatt said. “Legally, they have the right to do it. But it doesn’t make it morally right. Oklahoma City needs to do everything it possibly can to avoid this draw down for as long as possible.”
Canton Lake is not only important to fisherman who head there for the plentiful walleye, sand bass, catfish and more – it is also the walleye hatchery for the entire state. The plan to draw an additional 30,000 acre-feet of water would end that.
“It is essentially going to kill the lake for five to 10 years. All the game fish that people come for will die out, and there will be no more walleye hatchery,” Marlatt said. “This is going to have a negative impact on lakes throughout Oklahoma.”
Although Oklahoma City has the legal rights to the water in Canton Lake, it is still a critical part of western Oklahoma’s tourism and recreation, but like the hatchery, any recreational use of the lake will become a thing of the past once the water is gone. “Once they draw the water, recreational boating will be nonexistent. The remaining water will not reach a single boat ramp. People who come to boat and fish will stop coming and it’s going to impact local economies – restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and cabin rentals will see all those dollars go away,” Marlatt said. “That’s going to have a chain reaction in our local economy.”
Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said it is critical for Oklahoma City to view taking the water from Lake Canton as a last resort to be avoided as long as possible. He also urged the metro to look at more aggressive ways to limit water use.
“The economic and environmental impact to Canton and western Oklahoma will be felt for years to come if this goes through,” Sanders said. “This is a dire situation, and the fact of the matter is, if they aren’t conserving water, then they are actually wasting water. We simply don’t have the water to waste.”
Marlatt called the situation a disaster for western Oklahoma, and a potential disaster for Oklahoma City.
“At best, this is only a temporary fix for Oklahoma City,” Marlatt said. “But once they take this water from Canton Lake, that’s it – the water will be gone and people in both parts of the state are going to pay the price for Oklahoma City not doing more to conserve this precious resource.”
Oklahoma City has moved ahead with plans to take an additional 30,000 acre-feet of water from Canton Lake in the western part of the state. Marlatt said he learned on Jan. 29 that Oklahoma City had instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to begin transferring the water on Jan. 30. The entire process will take approximately three weeks.
“This should have been a last-ditch option for Oklahoma City, but the gates are open and the water is flowing out of Canton Lake right now,” Marlatt said. “Not only are the people of western Oklahoma going to suffer, but when the dog days of summer are here and the drought is even worse, citizens in Oklahoma City are going to be impacted as well because of a failure to adopt a proactive water conservation plan.”
Sanders was also critical of Oklahoma City’s decision to move ahead with the draw down on Canton Lake.
“Where has Oklahoma City been the last three years during this drought? Where is their water conservation plan? Lawns are still being watered in dead of winter. It makes no sense at all,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Failure of water management planning got them to this point. It was ill-advised to use reserve water first rather than a monitored draw-down of two-thirds full Lake Hefner.”
Ironically, the rainfall last week may have been the trigger for moving ahead with the draw-down. Previously the North Canadian River bed had been so dry that a large portion of the water would have been absorbed – the rain meant more of the water from Canton Lake would make it into Lake Hefner.