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Waurika Lake to undergo silt removal process

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WAURIKA, Okla._Another water crisis is threatening the water source that tens of thousands of people in our area use, including Lawton. Officials say Waurika Lake could run out of water within two years and the drought may not be entirely to blame.

After 35 years, the lake's silt buildup is so bad that entire water pumps are covered up by the rocky mixture and are no longer functioning. Teamed up with low water levels, the problem with the lake only grows, prompting engineers to take action before it's too late.

"We absolutely have to get this. We have no choice at this point," said Waurika Lake District Manager Dave Taylor.

Southwest Oklahoma's drinking water has been infiltrated by sediment. These minuscule rocks are starting to cause major problems everywhere from water pumps at the lake, to the very water that comes through our faucets.

"The cities are seeing some increased operating expense as well as we're seeing some increased wear and tear on our pumps," said Taylor.

Silt is made up of mainly small rocks and sediment that travel from creek beds to the lake's watershed. The problem is that wind blows in the same direction that water is drawn into the pump house, meaning there's nearly twenty feet of silt covering the channels that pump water into our homes every night. And that has officials worried about quantity over quality.

"By the end of 2015, early 2016, we would not be able to draw water out of Waurika Lake," said Taylor. "The original idea was to just go remove the silt. But once we saw the extent and depth of it, we had to back up. Now we're looking at bypassing the silt with a board pipeline that will take us to the deepest and least silty part of the lake."

That's where our region's drinking water will be extracted while the silt is removed from the original pumping sites. But getting underway isn't that simple.

"The total cost we're looking at right now is around ten million dollars. This is a corps project and we're paying our fair share of it, and for us to remove that silt and to take it out and work on it, requires a fairly extensive permitting process," explained Taylor.

It’s a process that could take several months and possible financial involvement from several cities that rely on the lake everyday. But despite the troubles, District Manager Taylor says the water is still a gem for all of southwest Oklahoma.

"I think it was Ben Franklin who says you don't know the value of water until the well runs dry. It's a very valuable and very good source of water, and it's going to see us through the drought we believe," said Taylor.

Officials hope to have all permits in place by the end of September. From there, silt removal at Waurika Lake could begin by summer 2015.

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