City of Lawton engineers are making plans for a water well in east Lawton, a raw water source that would be a safety net in times of drought.
The well is something that city officials have been considering for years, but, like other projects and activities that governmental entities are weighing, it could be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the City Council helped move the project to its next phase by voting last month to approve plans and design specifications for the well, then authorized city staff to launch the drilling project that could provide water from the Arbuckle-Timbered Hills aquifer that is under much of Comanche County. Designated Site K, the site to be drilled in the Park Lane Addition’s Henderson Park is one of multiple sites analyzed by Garver, an engineering consulting firm hired by the City Council in 2014 at the peak of historic drought.
The idea was to have Garver analyze alternative water sources that could supplement raw water now provided to the City of Lawton from Lakes Lawtonka, Ellsworth and Waurika. Unlike surface water, aquifer water is not prone to evaporation in the heat of summer, meaning wells could provide a stable source when the area cycles back to drought. While city voters approved a council idea to re-designate some Capital Improvement Funds originally allocated for alternate water sources, city administrators remained committed to pursuing water wells.
Rusty Whisenhunt, director of Public Utilities for the City of Lawton, said the first site selected for drilling will create a 1,400-foot-deep well in Henderson Park, located east of the former Park Lane Elementary School on Avalon Avenue. The site will be used for a pilot study for treatability of the water from the Arbuckle-Timbered Hills aquifer. Limited wells already drilled into that aquifer indicate the water has a high concentration of fluoride and suspended solids.
Whisenhunt said the site was one of the test sites analyzed by Garver in 2017 and Site K “produced a good volume of water.” The idea is to drill a permanent well at that site, then use it to determine what kind of treatment must be done to make the water potable — meaning, suitable for consumption.
“This will be the (production) well we use for a full-scale pilot,” he said, explaining a portable treatment process will be used to determine the best design for a treatment plant.
The pilot program is important because there isn’t a lot of data on the Arbuckle-Timbered Hills aquifer, Whisenhunt said. Data from the few existing wells, coupled with results gained from test holes, indicate a water source high in arsenic, fluoride, and total dissolved solids.
Whisenhunt said arsenic and fluoride are naturally occurring minerals in Comanche County soil, and minerals in the ground are picked up in well water. While it wasn’t a problem in an earlier era — “Twenty-five years ago, this is water we’d be thrilled to have had at our house” — Whisenhunt said today’s water regulations are different.
“Today’s water quality standards are much stricter than they were 25-30 years ago, or even 15-20 years ago,” he said, adding test wells indicate minerals present in higher-than acceptable levels. “The treatment process will address those issues.”
Determining exactly what that process will be is part of the pilot project. That treatment will be separate from the water treatment process now used at Lawton’s Southeast Water Treatment Plant near Coombs Road and its primary plant located on the edge of Lake Lawtonka in Medicine Park.
Whisenhunt said existing plants are designed to treat surface (lake) water, which does not have the same components as groundwater. Those plants are geared toward removing bacteria and some minerals.
“Fluoride and dissolved solids take a very specific type of treatment,” he said, noting options include membrane, or passing water through a thin material that can remove much smaller pollutants.
That’s why the pilot project is necessary, to determine what pollutants are in the water and the best and most economical way to remove them.
Site K has several arguments in its favor, including the fact the city owns the property (which lessens the project cost) and because the test well indicated the site would provide a high volume of water. The city’s original plan is to dig three production wells that will produce a combined total of 5 million gallons of water per day.
The most promising sites are located in east Lawton for a good reason: well water will be carried to the Southeast Water Treatment Plant.
City officials have a timeframe in mind for well development. Whisenhunt said drilling the production well will take 60 to 90 days, with another three to six months allocated for the treatment study. What isn’t certain is when the project will begin because there are questions about the availability of the sales tax revenue that supports Lawton’s CIPs.
Lawton expects a decrease in sales tax revenue because of businesses that were closed as government officials enacted restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19. Fewer businesses open mean fewer sales, and fewer sales means less sales tax revenue generated to support city operations. Because sales tax receipts lag two months behind expenditures, it will be May before City of Lawton officials know the effect of sales in March.
“That’s what we’re worried about: sales tax not coming in at the same rate,” Whisenhunt said, adding that while city staff had planned to bid the well project in May, “we’re holding bidding because we’re not sure where the finances are coming from.
“We may have to delay it a little bit.”