Lake Hefner, the primary source of the city’s drinking water, is around 17 feet below maximum capacity, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city utility department.
In addition, Lake Overholser is 7 feet below maximum capacity; Lake Stanley Draper is also 17 feet below capacity; and Lake Atoka, which supplies Draper, is 12 feet below capacity.
Many of the boats and docks at Hefner are mired in mud as a result of low lake levels, the ramifications of the region’s two-year drought.
The situation has gotten so bad that the city is considering drawing water from Canton Lake northwest of Oklahoma City.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Canton Lake for water supply, flood control and irrigation. Oklahoma City owns all of the water rights in the lake.
“We know that Canton Lake’s recreation will suffer. When we take the water, that lake level will lower,” Ragan said. “We’re putting it off as long as we can, hoping for rain.”
While the city has received some complaints from Lake Hefner boaters about the water levels, the city does not make special water withdrawals from lakes purely for recreational purposes.
“The boat owners and people who like to recreate at the lake are concerned, but we stress that Lake Hefner is a water-supply lake and it was built by the city in 1947 as a water-supply reservoir,” Ragan said. “We turn to the release only when your drinking-water supply is threatened, or lake levels are lower than what we would like to see.”
Daryl Williams, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Norman, said there is some hope — albeit modest — for above-average or average rainfall this winter. Each of the past two years has seen about 7 inches of rainfall less than the 30-year average, and conditions are even worse in northwest and southwest Oklahoma. While recent rains have helped slightly, it was not enough storms to break the pattern.
“We need a series of these,” Williams said. “The short answer on droughts is it takes months of belowaverage precipitation to get us in a drought and months of above-average precipitation to get us out.”
Long-range models from the Climate Prediction Center offer little reassurance that Central Oklahoma will be out of the drought any time soon.
“It’s not looking good,” Williams said. “There’s nothing pointing to anything driving a wet period through the rest of the winter to early spring.”