Drought persists; other options explored

July 3, 2023

The reason: Drought

Severe drought in Northeast Oklahoma and Southeast Kansas is the driving force behind water restrictions put in place by the City of Bartlesville earlier this year.

Lack of rain in Southeast Kansas, in particular, is the primary cause for declining levels at Hulah and Copan lakes, which are the primary sources of water supply for Bartlesville and the surrounding area.

Watersheds for both lakes are near Cedarvale and Sedan, Kansas.

“The areas near Sedan and Cedarvale, Kansas are approximately 10 inches below where they would normally be this time of year,” said Water Utilities Director Terry Lauritsen. “Unfortunately, the watersheds for both Hulah and Copan lakes are located in these areas. Drought conditions have caused lake levels at Hulah and Copan to continue to decline, which has negatively impacted our overall water supply.”

Lauritsen said that with the exception of this year, Hulah and Copan lakes have never been less than 100 percent full as of June 1 of any given year. On June 1, 2023, Hulah was 42.3 percent and Copan was 58 percent full.

“We have never been in this situation before,” Lauritsen said.

Numbers: Supply, use

Overall water supply fell last week to 56.9 percent, from 57.7 the week before. Use was 5.49 million gallons per day, up from 4.61 mgd the previous week.

“A large contributing factor in the elevated usage was the large leak we had on June 28, which likely used around 3 million gallons in less than an hour,” Lauritsen said.

The City enacted the Water Shortage Ordinance when water supply fell below 70 percent last December. Supply has been in near-continuous decline since then. Rains in the area have largely helped maintain supply over the past several months, and the restrictions have reduced water consumption. However, additional measures will likely be needed to help preserve what water is left until other emergency measures can be taken.

“We anticipate falling below 50 percent supply in August, which will put us in Stage 4 of the Water Shortage Ordinance,” Lauritsen said. “Stage 4 restrictions will eliminate all outdoor water use and increase the emergency water rates that we implemented in Stage 3. We are looking at asking the council to consider additional restrictions in Stage 4 as well, which could include limiting hours or placing other restrictions on car washes and/or closing commercial and private swimming pools.

The future

The restrictions are part of the City’s long-term plan to combat drought conditions that affect water supply, preserving lake levels for as long as possible — until rain occurs and/or other measures can be implemented.

Barring significant rainfall in Southeast Kansas that would replenish declining lake levels at the City’s primary water sources, other measures will be necessary to get the area through what is expected to be a two-year (or more) drought, Lauritsen said.

“The Water Shortage Ordinance, which essentially mandates conservation by imposing limits on outdoor watering and increasing water rate fees for higher usage, is a tool that we can use to combat drastic dips in our water supply due to drought,” said City Manager Mike Bailey. “The measures that have been implemented so far are intended to significantly slow the decline of our supply until other measures can be taken and/or until significant rainfall in the watershed areas replenish levels at Hulah and Copan lakes.”

Those measures include water reuse, an emergency system that has been in varying stages of development for several years. The reuse system, which will provide an additional 4 mgd, will be complete this month but is subject to the State’s permitting process. Additional options are being explored as well, Bailey said.

“We are looking at several options that sound promising and could apply to our situation,” he said. “Unfortunately, these types of projects often take several years to come to fruition so it’s relatively early in the process, but we are hopeful that water reuse can be online for emergency use by the end of next year.”

He said a few options being discussed include possibly accessing an aquifer located in Osage County, potential water rights at other Oklahoma lakes and/or working with other municipalities with water rights at those lakes, as well as purchasing potable water from other sources. He said the least expensive options range between $20 million and $40 million, with the more expensive coming in “north of $300 million.” The City also continues to seek additional water rights at Copan Lake.

Bailey said the City will reimplement the Water Resource Committee to work on identifying feasible resources and make recommendations.

For more information, see:

Water FAQ, Part 1

Water FAQ, Part 2

Q&A: Emergency rates & other water questions

2007 Planning Assistance to States study

Weekly water updates and conservation

Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan

Watersheds for Hulah and Copan lakes are located near Sedan and Cedarvale, Kansas, which are approximately 10 inches below normal precipitation levels for this time of year.