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High silt levels cause problems for Waurika Lake

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WAURIKA, Okla_The drought continues to affect Lake Waurika, and with the decreasing water levels comes new problems.

A survey from the Oklahoma Water Resource Board shows high levels of silt at the intake for the water pump. The build-up of clay and dirt will eventually prevent water from being pumped out of the lake, meaning big problems for the 6 cities that rely on it as a water source.

Drought, evaporation, a lot of silt, usage, and high temperatures continue to reduce water levels at Waurika Lake. With the lower levels come new problems and a need for solutions to prevent a lake that is an important water source and recreation spot from running dry.

Waurika Lake District Manager David Taylor said evaporation continues to be the lake's biggest enemy.

"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.

"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.

"The silt is sediment that is built-up from the bottom, and it is built-up against our pump house. It will prevent us from getting the last increment of water out of the lake," said Taylor.

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.

"The silt removal will give us about another 20,000 acre field of water," said Taylor.

The district is also looking for alternate water sources, some that move away from the traditional use of lakes as a major increment of capacity.

"The next big increments of capacity are going to come from water recycling, water reuse, and water conservation," said Taylor.

The idea of water recycling could include recycling wastewater from Lawton and Duncan. It would be treated before going back into a water plant or lake for usage.

Silt removal will begin in a little over a year. The district is also working with Lawton and the other five cities that use Waurika Lake on water rationing plans if the conditions continue to get worse.

Lake officials also said that the low water levels cause additional safety hazards for lake users. Low water areas are exposing parts of old bridges and trees. The water has low visibility and lots of drop offs. They said it is important to pay attention to where you are in the lake, and always wear a life jacket.

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