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A Flood Of Rain And Money Needed To Save Lake Waurika From Its Silt

Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department

Lake Waurika was built in by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1977 to serve, primarily, as a source of drinking water for Lawton and surrounding communities. It has also become an important tourist attraction for the area.

But the lake’s usefulness, in either of those capacities, might be on the brink of drying up, Lake District Manager David Taylor tells Lawton television station KSWO:

“The greatest loss that this lake has is to evaporation in any one year. So as we get into these months where it is 100 degree days and so forth, the evaporation rate really picks up,” said Taylor. And while the lake received about 4 inches of rain in the month of May, that only added about a week to the life of the lake.

Much of eastern and central Oklahoma saw significant drought improvement this spring, data from the U.S. Drought Monitor show, but the southwestern portion of the state is still experiencing “extreme” and “exceptional” drought conditions. Long-term forecasts don’t bode well for the lake’s future, either:

“The best model that I have at this point says that given typical rainfall we have seen in the last year and typical usage rates we are going to go to April 2015,” said Taylor. After that deadline, no more water will be able to be pumped out of Waurika Lake, due mostly to the build-up of silt.

It’s common for lakes to “silt over” and die, the Corps of Engineers told StateImpact in February’s Troubled Water documentary. Over the years, sediment and other particulates build up on the lake bottom. When more than half of a lake’s intended depth fills with silt, the Corps considers it a dead lake. At Lake Waurika, silt is building most around the pump house.

There is one way to extend the life of the lake, despite the drought. That solution: Lots and lots of money, the station reports:

That is why the Waurika Lake Master Conservancy District is looking for solutions. The projected cost for removing 105,000 acres of cubic silt will cost between $2.5 and $6 million. They will look for outside funding sources, but cities using the lake may have to help with the cost so the lake can continue to serve as a water source.

Beyond silt removal, the conservancy district says treating and recycling wastewater from the cities might eventually become necessary.  

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma. Logan spent six years as a reporter with StateImpact from 2011 to 2017.
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