U.S. Water News Online
TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa utility officials say the city might lose rights to a potential third source of water if a long-stagnated project doesn't gain momentum.
In 1986, the city signed a 30-year contract with the Grand River Dam Authority, allowing Tulsa to take water from Lake Hudson in Mayes County. The contract will activate when the city begins drawing water from the lake.
That year, the city also bought a 400-acre reservoir in Wagoner County to hold the water and, in later years, acquired the rights of way for most of a 37-mile pipeline. Plans called for the pipeline to be operational by 1990, but population projection caused the project to fall by the wayside.
Those projections indicated Tulsa would not need the third water source until 2055, but members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority see the issue as one of economic opportunity that could be lost.
“I'm concerned that we're going to let the train pass us by,” said authority member Rick Hudson. “Since we changed the form of government, we've been thinking more in the short term and I don't want to lose the long-term vision.”
Another member, Pat Eaton, was the city's water commissioner in 1986. She said her concern is that “someone else is going to come and take the water if we don't put the issue back on the front burner.”
The cost to do so could be prohibitive - $270 million to complete the project. Hudson said that cost would rise to $400 million in five years. He said it “would be devastating to Tulsa if after 2055 we lose the water rights.”
Jim Unruh, the authority's attorney since 1969, said the third water source project was based on “what the future could hold if we had the water supply” and that the thought when the project was conceived was to obtain as much water for Tulsa as possible.
“We could then advertise that we had all the water in the world,” he said.
The city's current two water sources are the Eucha-Spavinaw watershed and Lake Oologah. The Eucha-Spavinaw lakes are impaired by phosphorus, mainly from poultry waste, and silt. The city can treat the water for the effects of the waste, but it is expensive to do so.
Hudson said having a viable facility in place to use water from Lake Hudson would remove the risk of the city losing the rights to that water.
“I've said it before and will continue to say it,” he said. “You're not going to have that (Hudson) water if you wait until 2050.