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Empire residents are running out of water

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EMPIRE, Okla._Outside water sales are taking a toll on the Stephens County community of Empire. Rural Water District Three has contracted millions of gallons of water a year to an outside commercial drilling company and now they're being blamed for the town's shortage.

Empire farmers and residents claim the sales are depleting their water supply, leaving their wells at dangerously low levels. Not only are wells drying up for residents and farmers who are watering hundreds of crops and livestock, but they also don't have the option of installing city water either. With no plan B, no relief, and no answers, local ranchers and homeowners have decided to fight back.

"You try to live at your house with no water and see how you like it." Brenda Brackin has lived in Empire on her seven acres for over 30 years. Now, a completely new well may be her only option.

"It would be our expense to drill the well, go deeper, try to find water, if that doesn't work, then we have nothing." Brackin feels water shouldn't be a rarity with a Stephens County water tower just a few yards from her home.

"If they do deplete the water table and the wells go dry, our property is worthless," fears Empire resident Carl Laymon.

"It's personal, in a way that it affects how I've always made a living off the land that I own," said Ronald Ball.

Water district three received a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources board in 2012 to allow water from the area to be dispersed to other parts of the county. Outside drillers are pumping 15 gallons of water per minute at the site just outside of Empire. That adds up to about 7 million gallons a year, enough to fill 250 average-sized swimming pools.

The Oklahoma Water Resources board said, "There's just less water to go around and certainly that area of the state. Southern Oklahoma and the further you go to the west, it's really, really bad."

But Empire residents like Matt Milam say there's no excuse for washing away livelihoods right and left, "We're just appealing for help from whatever resources we can get someone to help us to get this stopped. How far are you willing to fight for this? I don't know. We'll just take it one day at a time."

Stephens County Water District Three would not comment on the situation in Empire. This Sunday, residents will meet at the Empire Community Center at 2 p.m. in order to collect as many protest letters as possible. From there, they will hand them in to the Water Resources Board in Oklahoma City and hope their voice is heard.

Empire residents, who are on a well water system, say sand and sediment are starting to come through their taps, a sign that the water levels are sinking fast.

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