Bartlesville officials talk water conservation, report Hulah Lake levels lowest in decade

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - Action taken by the Bartlesville city council on Monday night will allow officials to further urge residents to conserve water as the city is currently facing what may be the its worst drought in a decade.

Following a presentation on Bartlesville's current water situation by City of Bartlesville Water Director Mike Hall, the city councilors accepted a resolution implementing an ordinance amended the same night allowing the city manager to take measures to conserve water in the face of a water shortage.

The unamended ordinance only allowed officials to implement actions in the case of a water emergency when the city only had 60 days of water left, Jerry Maddox, the city attorney explained. The new wording replaced "emergency" with "shortage" thereby allowing the city to take action long before a water emergency is reached -- potentially preventing it.

"The whole idea is to start early and to give the city manager some discretionary abilities," said Maddox.

City Manager Ed Gordon told the council that with the new abilities and in light of the water shortage, the city soon will ask residents to go to a once-a-week outdoor watering system and to limit car washing to commercial facilities.

"This is nothing draconian," said Gordon, saying the measures being taking now are proactive in considering a potential water shortage, not reactive. "I think down the road I would rather have water I could drink or bathe in."

At some point, increasing rates may be used as well, but not yet. Additionally, the city will not be implementing any fines, said Gordon.

If the water rates are increased some time in the future, it will only be to discourage using water, he said. The rate increase would only be felt on residents who use large amounts of water.

Explaining the situation to 2NEWS during an interview before the meeting, Hall said due to the lack of rain, Hulah Lake which supplies Bartlesville's water is close to reaching low levels not seen in more than a decade.

"When we compare this year to the drought of '01-'02, we have about a foot and four-tenths more this year than we had in '01 in Hulah Lake."

According to the United States Army Corp of Engineers that built and maintains the lake, as of Monday afternoon the lake's pool elevation was at 728.51 feet – less than half of pool's capacity. The normal elevation is 733 feet according to the  USACE website .

"This time of the year it would normally be 1-2 feet down and now we are about 4.5-feet down," said Hall, saying that with the water at those levels, the city is only trying to make sure its clear to residents that they need to conserve their water.

This time of year the city is at its winter average usage – about 5.5 million gallons a day, down from the summer peak of 17 million gallons per day – and its driest season.

"With the January through February being our three lowest precipitation months of the year, we are just not expecting a lot of rainfall through February. So for that reason we want to conserve where ever we can," said Hall, saying people do not need to water their grass, now dormant, and could make sure to turn off the faucet at the sink when they finish brushing their teeth, for example.

"We are just trying to let people know that if we save (water) right now, it might avert some more dramatic or drastic measures in the spring until the rain comes," he said. 

"We are now in an exceptional drought. It's not an extreme drought. It's an exceptional drought which is worse yet.

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