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Altus Officials Looking for Help with Low Water Levels

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ALTUS Okla_ Even though the summer is winding down and cooler temperatures are just a few weeks away, the City of Altus is still battling the effects of the drought on their water supply.

Despite an unusually rainy summer for much of the area, Altus has only received half of their yearly rain average so far. That's compounded by an abnormally dry year in 2012. As we've reported, it's forced the city to enact some strict conservation measures, but they've resisted going to their most severe water restriction plan.

Altus receives water from two sources: Tom Steed Reservoir east of town, which is down to 25%, and Lake Lugert Altus, which is sitting at 12%. Even though the situation may seem dire, city officials say residents are on board with conservation, and it's keeping conditions from becoming worse.

Keep calm and pray for rain. It's a growing adage in Altus as the city has only received 15 inches of rain so far this year. The lack of rain means resources are shrinking and water is a hot commodity.

That minimal rainfall in Altus is the cause for this reservoir only to be a quarter full. It's not just the lack of water that's plaguing residents; it's also the quality. Sediment and other contaminants are stirred up as the lake starts to reach the bottom of the barrel.

"There's less water and more gunk in the water that's there," Emergency Supervisor Lloyd Colston said. "That means the water treatment plants have to work harder to get the gunk out. The water quality is poor."

To fix the drought problem permanently, Colston said it's going to take money. He said building a pipeline to funnel eastern Oklahoma water that's normally channeled to the Mississippi River is the most effective solution. Other methods have also been considered, though.

"We could line up three trains a day along Steed or along Lugert and just dump the water in the lake," Colston said. "That would meet current water needs plus 20%. How many air tankers would it take to fill up Steed? That's a proposition as well."

In the meantime, he said conservation is working. Even at low levels, Lake Altus can still provide the city water for two years.

"If people quit conserving, we don't have two years," Colston said. "It is an issue, but we will get through this. It's going to take some time to recover."

Of course, farmers are some of the hardest hit because of the lack of irrigation to their crops. So, these conditions are causing some economic impact on the area. Colston said residents are doing a good job by conserving and really wants everyone to remember to only use the water you need, and need the water you use.

Officials aren't sure how long the drought is expected to last, but they won't call off the conservation orders for the area until the lake are at least 50% full.

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