The Lone Chimney Water Association pumps water out of the lake, treats it at a shore-side plant and distributes it through an 87-mile labyrinth of pipelines. The district serves users in Payne, Noble, Pawnee and Lincoln counties.
Seven years ago Lone Chimney Lake dipped to unprecedented low levels during a then-historic drought, causing people and towns to scramble to draw up emergency plans.
The current drought is more severe. The lake is 11 and one-half feet below average, surpassing the previous low of 10 feet in 2006. The water is four feet above the lake’s last intake valve. If the valve is reached, workers will be forced to activate a submerged pump, which would require increased water treatment and testing of oxygen levels.
“We’re not sure how much longer we’ll be able to provide water,” said J.J. Dooley, the association’s distribution operator. “Since we’re a wholesale distributor, it’s not like we can issue mandates on water rationing like a city can. All we can do is send out notices, asking people to cut back.”
Wells or Bust
Worried that lack of water will endanger their cattle, some ranchers are digging their own wells.
Fuss, the cattleman, whose ranch is a few miles southeast of the lake, said he dug his two wells for $8,000 because he was fed up with the stress of the shortage and the $400 to $500 a month he was paying the water association. The association has raised rates and imposed surcharges in recent years.
“Best money I ever spent,” said Fuss. “The more water I used, the more they charged me and so I dug my own wells.”
Decisions like Fuss’s are not made lightly.
“I was lucky we struck water,” Fuss said. “I have a neighbor six miles to the north who dug for water and found nothing. Another neighbor a mile east of me dug and didn’t get enough water to water his garden.”