Silt removal extends long-term use of Waurika Lake

Silt removal extends long-term use of Waurika Lake

WAURIKA LAKE, Okla._A kickoff ceremony was held at Waurika Lake Tuesday afternoon, celebrating the official start of a $10 million dredging project.

The project has been in the works for the past two years and will free up an additional 25,000 acre-feet of water from the lake once it's completed. Nearly 10 million gallons of sediment will be pulled, allowing six area cities, including Lawton, to continue to tap into the water resource.

Local city officials and engineers who have helped contribute to the project are calling the expansion an investment into the long-term future of Southwest Oklahoma, and they want to follow it through to the end.

Waurika Lake manager Dave Taylor says he is filled with a mix of emotions now that the project has broken ground.

"It's relief. It's elation. It's being able to look forward to seeing this project finished so that as we enter into the next drought cycle we know that we are going to be able to deliver the water as first designed and as promised when we built this lake 40 years ago," Taylor said.

Before the lake can reach its full potential, Taylor says a lot of work still needs to be done and will be completed in a three-phase process. The first phase will require the use of a barge to vacuum the silt off the lake's floor.

"Over the course of about three months, several million gallons of silt from the bottom of Waurika Lake will be pumped into this holding pond right behind me," Taylor explained.

From there, workers will start replacing some of lake's gates that were broken from the pressure of the dense silt. During the final phase, Taylor says 4,000 feet of pipeline will extend the current underwater system, ensuring water is accessible even in drought.

"We are going to put a floating intake in there, so that no matter where the lake level is, we will be able to draw water into the pump house go through the pumps and serve all of our cities," Taylor said.

Lawton makes up for 60 percent of the lake's water usage. Lawton City Manager Jerry Ihler says this project is just one of the puzzle pieces that is coming together, ensuring Lawton has a more sustainable water supply.

"This is just the beginning, as you know, we are moving forward with our projects that relate to ground water and reuse water and so we want to diversify our portfolio, our water portfolio, so that we are not 100 percent reliant on surface water," ihler said.

Taylor says this project wouldn't have been made possible had it not been for everyone's eagerness to see it succeed.

"A diverse and widely separated group of people to get together and agree on something as long as that something is clear and concise and they understand that is a worthy goal," Taylor said.

The extra water in the holding pool will naturally separate from the silt as it settles to the bottom, and will eventually be piped back into the lake over time. As for the sediment, a decision has not been made as to where it's final resting spot will be.