Town hall meeting brings water issues to light

Garver water team leader Mach speaks at Ward 1 forum

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Garver Oklahoma water team leader/senior project manager Mary Elizabeth Mach discusses Yukon's water issues, including rate increases. Governor Kevin Stitt appointed Mach to sit on the state's Water Quality Management Advisory Council in 2019. (Photo by Carol Mowdy Bond)

By Carol Mowdy Bond

Contributing Writer

Yukon Ward 1 City Council member Rick Cacini hosted a town hall meeting, inviting Mary Elizabeth Mach to discuss water issues.

Yukon City Council member at large Jeff Wootton and residents met for the 7 p.m. Jan. 23 meeting at the Mabel C. Fry Public Library, 1200 Lakeshore.

Mach is Garver Oklahoma’s water team leader and senior project manager. In 2019, Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Mach to the state’s Water Quality Management Advisory Council.

“Water is an issue,” Cacini said. “I get all these calls about water rates going up. We buy water from Oklahoma City and combine it with our own water so we can meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

Ward 1 City Council Member Rick Cacini shares thoughts about Yukon’s future water sources. (Photo by Carol Mowdy Bond)

“Do we keep using Oklahoma City water, or come up with something ourselves? We’re buying water from Oklahoma City and the rates keep going up every year. I have five children and 13 grandchildren. We need to be concerned about 50 years from now for our kids and grandchildren. I’m concerned about our ward and our kids.”

Mach explained that Yukon belongs to the Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority. She said that years ago communities came together for water solutions, and that’s what COWRA is about.

COWRA’s goal is to strengthen knowledge of potential water supply source(s) for member communities and begin implementation of an economical water supply solution acceptable to the member communities.

Mach told that Yukon has water wells but many have high concentration levels of arsenic. So the City of Yukon started blending Oklahoma City water with Yukon’s water to lower the arsenic concentration to meet EPA standards. Garver is a civil engineering firm that evaluated solutions between now and 50 years from now for Yukon’s water issue.

Yukon’s water well are in the Central Oklahoma Aquifer, AKA the Garber-Wellington Aquifer. The aquifer underlies about 3,000 square miles of central Oklahoma, and the water is used for public, industrial, commercial, agricultural, and domestic supply.

Believing there are several cost-effective options to deal with Yukon’s water issues, Mach explained that one option is for Yukon to have its own arsenic removal facility.

YUKON-MUSTANG PARTNERSHIP?

Another is for Yukon to partner with Mustang. Between Yukon and Mustang there would also be water rights to provide for other communities who would pay for the water.

She said the financial cost would look like this:

  • $7 million for Mustang to create its own water facility.
  • $7 million for Yukon to create its own water facility.
  • $21 million for Yukon and Mustang to go in together, which allows for backup in case of emergencies. Mach believes this is the most cost-effective long-term solution.

Residents asked about the impact on their home water bills.

“We did not look at how this would change rates in terms of the individual person’s bill,” Mach responded. “Based on the input I’ve received the cost will continue to increase whether you provide water yourself or stay with Oklahoma City.”

Residents asked about the safety of having arsenic in water.

“Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical in The Central Oklahoma Aquifer, aka the Garber-Wellington Aquifer,” Mach said. “The EPA has studied what they consider safe levels of arsenic and other in water. The Safe Water Act tells safe level concentrations. The City of Yukon has gone to great lengths to keep the water safe by combing their water with Oklahoma City water.”

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is a federal law that protects public drinking water supplies throughout the nation. Under the SDWA, EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and with its partners implements various technical and financial programs to ensure drinking water safety.

“I go to conferences where OU and OSU are involved in this issue and how they are coming up with solutions,” Council Member Cacini said. “Until we have our own filtration system, we’re working with the Garver folks and OU and OSU to clean out the arsenic.

“There’s land available west of us, but a location has not been decided on. Oklahoma City is building more pipelines and the rates are going up. But if we have our own filtration system, it will cost us something.”

The current water study – including the costs already mentioned – was completed in 2017, Mach added. She said the cost of $21 million if Yukon and Mustang go in together is due to having backup in case something goes down.

“Pipes break and you need a funding mechanism to repair, including pipes and facilities. The cost of service will increase.”

A resident asked, “Is the savings enough to make this cost effective?”

“Based on projections we believe it is,” Mach replied. “But I would expect a cost jump initially that might exceed what consumer rates are now. But then I would expect the cost to level off. There’s an opportunity to pull more water in from other fields, and an opportunity for Yukon to sell water and make profit.

“Oklahoma City doesn’t use ground water. They have other water sources.”

Cacini passed around the Annual Water Quality Report of Water Testing Performed in 2017 and presented by the City of Yukon.

The pamphlet tells that “The City of Yukon and Veolia Water have conducted a Source Water Assessment and Protection Ground Water Sources Report. This report is on file with Veolia Water and may be viewed at 501 E. Wagner Rd., Yukon, during regular business hours.”

YUKON’S WATER SOURCES

The City of Yukon’s water sources are groundwater from the Garber-Wellington Aquifer and purchased water provided by Oklahoma City, according to the pamphlet.

The aquifer supplies an average of approximately 2.6 million gallons of groundwater per day to our residents.

Depending on the month, 60% of the total water supply for Yukon is Oklahoma City water.

“The U.S. EPA prescribes regulations limiting the amount of certain contaminants in water provided by public water systems,” the pamphlet reads.

Substances that may be present in source water include:

  • Microbial contaminants, such as viruses and bacteria, which may come from sewage treatment plants, septic systems, agricultural livestock operations, or wildlife;
  • Inorganic contaminants, such as salts and metals, which can be naturally occurring or may result from urban storm water runoff, industrial or domestic wastewater discharges, oil and gas production, mining, or farming; pesticides and herbicides;
  • Organic chemical contaminants; radioactive contaminants, which can be naturally occurring or may be the result of oil and gas production and mining activities; and
  • Other substances, some potentially harmful, that naturally occur in ground water or are there for other reasons.

Founded in 1919, Garver is a multi-disciplined engineering, planning, architectural, and environmental services firm with 30 offices in 13 states. Garver comes up with solutions to provide communities with safe, sustainable, cost-effective water solutions.

Mach leads teams involving more than a dozen water engineers who work to deliver designs to improve the state’s water supply. Her responsibilities include leading teams to determine effective technologies for removal of constituents, such as arsenic and nitrate, from groundwater.

Oklahoma’s Water Quality Management Advisory Council reviews and approves water quality rules and recommends changes to the Environmental Quality Board.

Comprised of 12 members who are appointed for three-year terms, WQMAC members represent local, government, industry, oil and gas, geology, engineering, agriculture, and private laboratory sectors. The council meets at least three times annually.