EPA Honors 2 Oklahoma Water Projects

  • Water pouring out of pipe

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two Oklahoma water projects, one in the northeast and one in a southwest Oklahoma community, were singled out for national recognition recently.

The South Delaware County Regional Water Authority was an “Exceptional Project” recipient in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2020 AQUARIUS Recognition Program. Twenty-five projects were recognized in the AQUARIUS program, and only five were deemed “exceptional.”

The City of Altus, in Jackson County, received an “honorable mention” PISCES award from the EPA. PISCES is the EPA’s George F. Ames “Performance and Innovation in the SRF Creating Environmental Success” program, which celebrates innovation demonstrated by clean water state revolving fund programs and assistance recipients.

SDCRWA Created by Partnerships

The South Delaware County Regional Water Authority (SDCRWA) received several million dollars from various sources to construct a new water treatment plant and supply drinking water to nearby communities.

Several communities in northeastern Oklahoma were struggling to address various drinking water challenges, such as excessive EPA maximum contaminant levels and sulfur-smelling water.

Previously the towns and rural water systems in that area obtained their water from various independent sources. Colcord’s water “was really bad,” and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality issued a consent order demanding that Cookson improve its drinking water, said Don Wilcoxen of Flint Ridge, general manager of SDCRWA. To address their challenges, the communities opted to create a regional water supplier to provide safe, reliable drinking water. This led to creation of the SDCRWA; Terry Woods of Jay is the superintendent of the system.

The Water Authority constructed a new treatment plant below Clear Lake Dam in Flint Ridge, to purify water drawn primarily from the Illinois River and secondarily from Clear Lake, in Flint Ridge Community - "Resort Living on the Illinois River."

The new treatment plant can routinely process 2 million gallons of raw water per day, “and we could do 3 million gallons a day” if necessary, Wilcoxen said. The project also included expansion of the raw water intake capacity at the river, and construction of two new water towers in the Leach and Rose areas.

The old water treatment plant, which is “just across the road from the new one,” is “usable” and “we’ll keep it, at least for awhile, as a backup,” Wilcoxen said. The new plant became operational in December 2019 and today supplies potable water to “somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people,” Wilcoxen said.

The SDCRWA provides drinking water to West Siloam Springs; the Town of Colcord; the Town of Kansas; Flint Ridge, a gated community of approximately 600 customers; Leach; Cookson Hills; and Delaware County Rural Water District #11, which sells water to Oaks and to the Cobb-Vantress poultry farm near Rose, records indicate. “And we’re about to take water to Chewey Road and to Illinois River Ranch gated community of about 50 homes, Wilcoxen said.

Multiple Sources Financed Project

The $15.7 million project was financed from five funding sources:

-- state Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan proceeds of $3 million (of which $1,827,053 will be “forgiven”, said Joe Freeman, chief of the Financial Assistance Division of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board);

-- a $6,749,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division;

-- a $3,886,000 grant from the USDA-RD;

-- a $1,629,000 grant from Indian Health Service;

-- a $347,400 grant from the Cherokee Nation;

-- $90,000 in local funds from the SDCRWA.

“This is all about partnerships,” Wilcoxen said. “None of these little communities could afford to do this” on their own. The project enables the SDCRWA to “provide safe, reliable drinking water to several disadvantaged communities in northeastern Oklahoma,” the EPA said.

“We owe a big debt of gratitude to the Cherokee Nation,” he added. “They put up the seed money that paid for the feasibility study and the engineering that was done on this project. Without them, we would never have gotten this done.”

Altus Installs Electronic Metering System

The City of Altus - City Government was cited for its multimillion-dollar project to install an electronic water meter system citywide. Three years ago the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) approved an $11 million, 20-year loan to the Altus Municipal Authority from the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).

More than half of the funds, $6,586,500, were earmarked for replacement of 10,000 water meters and 10,000 electric meters with automated water and electric meter reading equipment. 

The balance of the proceeds was devoted to improvements of the town’s wastewater treatment system. OWRB records indicate the funds were used to construct a new headworks fine screen and replace headworks pumps, build a 90-foot diameter clarifier, install a new ultraviolet effluent disinfection system, construct a return activated sludge pump station, replace a 70-foot diameter clarifier and plant control and electrical systems.

Installation of the “smart” meters started in December 2018, records indicate. “The electric part of the project is essentially 99% complete, while the water part is approximately 90% complete,” the contractor Nighthawk reported last November.

New Meters to Reduce Pollution

According to the OWRB, the electric meter eligibility under the CWSRF program was approved through a partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission  “to address natural resource concerns that should ultimately reduce non-point source pollution flowing into Oklahoma’s waters.

“Although different from many traditional water quality projects, this effort is another example of how an attempt to address one natural-resource concern (energy) can impact another (water quality), and how partners will need to try many different approaches to ultimately support and maintain goals of the federal Clean Water Act,” said Joe Freeman, chief of the Water Board’s Financial Assistance Division.

“When the OWRB is working with a city on a Clean Water State Revolving Fund project that might affect non-point source pollutant runoff to water bodies, they request a review from the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) to determine whether the project is consistent with the goals of the state’s Non-point Source Pollution Management Plan,” said Shanon Phillips, the OCC’s director of water quality. “OCC then reviews the project to determine whether it could address sources of impairment in polluted water bodies. In the case of the electric meters, these support more energy-efficient electric power use, which helps reduce some of the potential sources of mercury pollution that affects many of the state’s smaller lakes.”

Meters Ensure Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency reduces the need for energy exploration and development, or potentially slows oil and gas exploration and development, at a minimum, the OWRB reported. Oil and gas production is a significant potential source of non-point source pollution in Oklahoma, including increased turbidity and salt contamination as well as decreased aquatic habitat in streams statewide.

“Unfortunately, when oil and gas production development occurs at a frenetic pace it becomes difficult to maintain environmentally safe development. Efforts to increase energy efficiency should help energy production occur at a rate that allows for more environmentally protective oil and gas production.”

“A targeted campaign by the City of Altus was initiated to educate, inform, and involve both city staff and the general public in becoming more aware of personal electric usage and the application of specialized tools to provide energy efficiently to residents, reducing the carbon footprint through the use of advanced metering infrastructure,” Freeman said.