The city of Wichita Falls held a meeting with all of its water customers, including the city of Olney, on Friday, March 14, and City Administrator Danny Parker brought back some positive news on the larger city’s water plans and how they will affect local citizens.

Parker said the first order of business was discussing Wichita Falls’ re-use project, which is reported to be in the final stages with treated effluent water expected to re-enter the system sometime in the next 45 days.

“The water quality is exceeding their expectations,” Parker said. “They’re going to be returning several million gallons a day from the wastewater plant to the treatment facility.”

While the water re-use in Wichita Falls will not directly impact municipalities that use the city’s reservoirs, Parker did say it has the potential to reduce the larger city’s pull on those lakes, allowing that water to last longer.

“They said it will be 24 to 28 months before they feel the lakes will be physically where we can’t get water from them,” Parker said. “They did make the statement at the meeting they were very satisfied and surprised the water customers have been able to cut and conserve the way they do.”

Currently, the city of Olney still gets a majority of its drinking water from the Lake Kickapoo line. The city’s contract with Wichita Falls allows up to 300,000 gallons per day, but Olney has not been getting that amount now for several months. As the drought has continued, Wichita Falls officials have asked water customers to cut back dramatically on water usage. The remaining water used by Olney residents has been pulled from Lake Cooper, which stands at 1,123.5 feet elevation.

The next wrinkle for water customers like the city of Olney will come when Wichita Falls creates and enters its fifth drought phase once the lakes reach 25 percent capacity. As of Monday, the combined capacity of Lake Arrowhead and Lake Kickapoo stood at 26.8 percent.

Parker said that Wichita Falls’ fifth drought phase is not set in stone at this point, but could result in car washes being forced to close several more days a week and affect use of privately owned pools in the summer. Olney already disallows filling pools with city water under its fourth drought phase, but would be expected to comply with Wichita Falls’ requirements once it entered into its new restrictive phase.

“They ask that we at least follow their conservation plan,” he said, noting Olney does not currently have a fifth drought phase.

As for a solution, Parker said Wichita Falls is helping with the Lake Ringgold project and is looking at other options as well.

“They are looking for alternative water supplies and are encouraging other entities to do the same,” he said. “There’s no quick fix.”

He said Wichita Falls officials recommended Olney look into using water wells and ground water, as well as getting water from Lake Graham, but that none of those options, at this time, are viable for Olney. The city of Graham has previously noted it would not be able to help Olney in an emergency, and Parker said any water wells or ground water sources that produced enough usable water to assist a town of Olney’s size must be located within close proximity to town. They must also either be on land owned by the city or on land to which the city can procure water rights. Any sources further away would be cost-prohibitive, he noted, adding that the cost of laying an 8- to 10-inch line over a 20 mile span would cost into the millions of dollars. 

While the city did get decent rainfall over the weekend, he said just .72 inches fell at the lake and Lake Cooper caught next to no runoff .

“Everything is so dry it didn’t run like we needed it to run,” he said. “It will take more than ‘an event’ to do it.”

As for Olney’s prognosis for continuing to have water throughout this summer, Parker said he believes it will happen – with some work on behalf of citizens.

“We’re going to have to make it on 300,000 a day or less,” he said.

A final positive outcome from Friday’s meeting in Wichita Falls was the formation of a Drought Task Force.

“The task force will try to formulate some kind of plan where if we do run out of water, we’d have some sort of emergency supply available,” Parker said, noting all community water customers will be represented in the meetings. “That group should be meeting sometime in early April.”