Water limit ordered
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Thursday, August 04, 2011
8/04/11 at 7:20 AM
Read more about the Tulsa heat wave and drought, get weather updates and see photos and video.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett filed an executive order Wednesday officially calling for voluntary water rationing due to unprecedented water usage for the second consecutive day.
This is the first time in 30 years the city has imposed outdoor water restrictions. The city called for voluntary watering restrictions in 1980 and mandatory rationing in 1981.
During a news conference Wednesday, Bartlett said the city's water system "is literally working 24 hours a day at its almost peak-demand level, and the stress on the system is very real."
"We have to ask the citizenry to voluntarily reduce their watering to give the system a little rest," he said.
The mayor explained that a city ordinance sets water-usage thresholds that, if reached and maintained for two consecutive days, trigger a call for the appropriate stage of rationing. The city has four stages of water restrictions, with the first being voluntary.
Bartlett said he unofficially asked customers last week to limit outdoor watering and that it appeared to make a difference. However, at that time the temperatures had not reached the recent extremes.
Temperature highs for Wednesday was 113 and for Tuesday was 112, the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the city on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3. The all-time high in Tulsa is 115, set on Aug. 10, 1936.
If Tulsa's water usage reaches 206 million gallons per day for two consecutive days, voluntary rationing is called for, with outdoor watering acceptable on alternate days between midnight and noon. Odd and even addresses are matched with the odd and even calendar days for when watering can occur.
Tuesday's usage of 207.4 million gallons fell slightly below Monday's 207.6 million gallons, which was the third record-setting amount since July 16, when the 1999 record of 190.5 mgd was broken.
Bartlett said that if customers don't comply and water usage increases to 213 mgd, rationing will become mandatory, with violators facing fines up to $500 and 30 days in jail.
In addition to Tulsa customers, the city regularly supplies water to 17 other communities - and three more on an emergency basis.
Those communities include suburbs and several rural water districts, all of which affect the water usage levels and by contract would be subject to any rationing imposed on Tulsans, Bartlett said.
Water and Sewer Director Clayton Edwards said the city's water customers have gotten used to having as much water as they want.
"But over the past few weeks with this extreme heat and no rain, we no longer have that luxury of having an unlimited amount of water," Edwards said.
The issue for the city is not water supply but the capacity of the treatment plants to meet the demand, he said. The maximum ability is 220 mgd, he said.
The levels in Tulsa's water supply lakes, Spavinaw and Eucha, as well as Oologah, are good, Edwards said.
"But we've been running the pumps hard and running hard for a while, and that increases the risk of equipment failure," he said. "We don't want that."
Bartlett said it is imperative that the city have enough water to meet the basic needs of drinking water and fire protection.
Noting Tuesday's wildfires that destroyed homes in Turley, he said that if similar fires erupt within the city's customer service area, the city must be able to meet the demand.
"It's a public health and safety issue," he said.
Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday expanded a state burn ban to cover all of Oklahoma's 77 counties. Previously, the state ban covered 45 counties. County-imposed burn bans had been in place for Tulsa County and most other counties.
Bartlett said the city also will restrict some of its water use by temporarily closing its splash pads because they use a high volume of water that is not recycled.
However, the River Parks Authority-operated splash pad at 41st Street and Riverside Drive will remain open because it has a recirculating water system.
Bartlett said the city also is hoping to keep four city pools - at Lacy, Whiteside, McClure and Reed parks - open this week and two of them through the end of the month, depending on lifeguard availability.
The Tulsa Parks Department and the contractor who maintains downtown vegetation will follow the voluntary rationing, he said.
The two city golf courses also will restrict watering to only the play areas. The Mohawk Park course draws water from Coal Creek to maintain its tee boxes, fairways and greens.
Edwards said the rationing ordinance exempts commercial, industrial and construction firms that rely on water.
"We don't want to prevent them from doing business and affecting their livelihoods," he said.
Edwards said it is outdoor watering such as irrigation systems and sprinklers for residential and commercial landscapes that have created the rise in water usage.
Bartlett suggested watering trees and plants but not lawns.
Wednesday's high sets another record
Tulsa's 113-degree high Wednesday broke the previous Aug. 3 record of 110 degrees, set in 1923. The 113 exceeded Tuesday's maximum for the highest measurement in Tulsa this year. The highest temperature recorded in Tulsa is 115, on Aug. 10, 1936.
Wednesday's high 113
Wednesday's low 82
Thursday's forecast high 107
Thursday's forecast low 79
100-degree days this summer* 31
Tuesday's rainfall 0.00 inches
August's rainfall average** 2.9 inches
*since summer started June 21
** for the entire month
Tapped out: Tulsa's 1981 water crisis remembered
It's been 30 years since the city last ordered water rationing.
A drought, 100-degree temperatures and skyrocketing water usage in 1981 triggered then-Water Commissioner Patty Eaton to skip voluntary cutbacks and go directly to mandatory rationing.
A year earlier, demands on the system had resulted in voluntary rationing, Eaton said Wednesday.
Back then, hitting 125 million gallons of water per day for two consecutive days was the threshold for mandatory rationing. Today that threshold is 213 mgd.
Eaton said that in 1981, when the city topped out at 128 mgd one day and 125.6 mgd the next, the fear of "blowing out the system was very real."
She blamed the lack of rainfall and an inadequate water distribution system, which left most of south Tulsa without water pressure.
In 1980, the city had no rationing plan in place and tried an alternate-day watering schedule, but that didn't reduce the demand, news archives indicate.
The city decided to limit water to pre-dawn hours.
"That was the big joke," Eaton said. "You met your neighbors while you were all standing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night watering grass."
The rationing schedule triggered editorial cartoons and the "pre-dawn, wet-pajama jitterbug," where weary residents danced back and forth from front yards to bed adjusting sprinklers in the fight to save their parched lawns and plants.
In one 1980 article, a Tulsan reported that while watering his azaleas in the 5:30 a.m. darkness, he spotted a lumpy shape in his ivy bed - a well-watered Tulsa World newspaper.
In 1981, the rationing plan linked addresses to symbols - diamond, triangle, square, star and circle - each identifying which fifth day was legal to water. A rationing calendar full of the symbols was published in the newspaper, and every day the shape for the day was on the front page, Eaton said.
Although the city had 10 "water rationing enforcers" patrolling the city looking for violators to cite, there were plenty of citizen whistleblowers, news reports state.
It got so cut-throat that people drawing well water to water their yards actually erected signs notifying people of that to avoid confrontation, a former Public Works Department spokesman reported.
Eaton said some people took advantage of the signs and used them even though they were using city water.
"That is when we initiated the water enforcers," she said.
Eaton said the cure to the city's water-rationing woes came with voter approval of the 1981 third-penny sales tax. It included funding to address extensive expansions to the water distribution system and improvements to the treatment plants.
- P.J. Lassek, World Staff Writer
Tulsa water rationing
Stage 1: When water use reaches 94 percent of the city's 220 million gallons per day treatment capacity (206.8 million gallons) for two consecutive days, customers voluntarily alternate days of outside watering and restrict watering to between midnight and noon. Odd- and even-numbered addresses coincide with odd and even calendar days.
Stage 2: When water use reaches 97 percent of capacity (213.4 million gallons) for two consecutive days, customers must alternate days of outside watering and restrict watering to between midnight and noon.
Stage 3: When water use reaches 100 percent of capacity for two consecutive days, customers must alternate days of outside watering, restrict watering to between midnight and noon, and use only a handheld hose.
Stage 4: When water demand exceeds 100 percent of capacity for two consecutive days, customers are prohibited from outside watering.
Source: City of Tulsa
Tulsa water customers
(by contract all must follow rationing orders)
Cities: Tulsa, Bixby, Catoosa, Glenpool, Jenks, Owasso
- Wagoner County Rural Water
- Rogers Rural Water No. 3
- Rogers Rural Water No. 5
- Washington County Rural Water
- Okmulgee Rural Water
- Creek County Rural Water No. 2
- Creek County Rural Water No. 4
- Sapulpa Rural Water Co.
- Tulsa County Water
- Osage Rural Water No. 15
- Sperry Public Works Authority
Source: City of Tulsa
- Sand Springs
- Skiatook Public Works Authority
Another day, another peak record for AEP-PSO
The utility's customers set another unofficial all-time high - for the third time in seven days - on Tuesday by using 4,362 megawatts at the peak period, spokesman Stan Whiteford said Wednesday.
American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma's new mark breaks the previous peak use record of 4,331 megawatts - set one day earlier.
The Monday record, in turn, exceeded the previous record - 4,277 megawatts on July 27. Last week's short-lived historic high broke the relatively long standard of 4,200 megawatts used at one point on Aug. 4, 2008.
Southwest Power Pool Inc., which oversees utility distribution in Oklahoma and eight other regional states, reported that its combined network Tuesday achieved a peak record of 54,949 megawatts. The previous SPP record was 54,534 megawatts on Monday.
The Southwest Power Pool forecast Wednesday's peak use at 54,621 megawatts. One megawatt can power about 200 homes during very hot weather, according to reports.
P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382
Erik Nilsen splashes water on his face and rinses his hair in a fountain at 41st Street and Riverside Drive with his dog Beyoncé on Wednesday. Nilsen was preparing to move to Colorado. The temperature in Tulsa hit 113 degrees. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World
Ashley Vargas plays in a fountain at 41st and Riverside on Wednesday. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World
Kelly Cain sunbathes during the blistering heat at Big Splash in Tulsa on Wednesday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Jorge Carranza cools off in the pool at Big Splash in Tulsa on Wednesday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World