By Conrad Dudderar
It appears Yukon will continue buying Oklahoma City water for the foreseeable future as city administrators recommend terminating a public trust formed about 20 years ago to find a long-term water source for Canadian County municipalities.
Faced with the challenge of spending many millions of dollars to build and operate new water facilities, Yukon and Mustang city leaders will consider dissolving the Central Oklahoma Water Resource Authority (COWRA).
COWRA has “served its purpose” to find an alternative water source, Yukon City Manager Tammy Kretchmar told city council members this week.
“There’s no reason to have any more meetings,” Kretchmar said. “I recommend that we dissolve COWRA.”
COWRA has been a “good organization” and “did what it was supposed to do,” Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby said.
“It’s given us several options of what we can do,” she added.
The trust was originally comprised of seven dues-paying members: Town of Calumet, City of El Reno, City of Mustang, Town of Okarche, City of Piedmont, City of Union City, and City of Yukon. Each municipality paid a fee based on population.
Only Yukon and Mustang – Canadian County’s largest municipalities – remain as COWRA members after the other five pulled out.
Both growing cities must continually buy water from the City of Oklahoma City to augment their supplies to meet demands.
The neighboring cities also must “blend” water with Oklahoma City to reduce arsenic levels that meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Since 2000, COWRA has met regularly while seeking a new water source that provides an alternative to Oklahoma City water purchases.
“They have looked and looked, hired engineers and hired lobbyists,” Kretchmar explained.
In early 2018, COWRA selected the engineering firm Garber Oklahoma to study the ongoing water supply issues.
A long-term plan for water solutions presented in late 2018 featured a proposal for Yukon and Mustang to work together to build a new water treatment plant.
Yukon city leaders, at an Aug. 3rd city council study session, heard cost estimates to construct new water facilities.
Yukon Public Works Director Arnold Adams shared three primary options recommended in the Garber study, at current costs:
- Yukon would build its own water plant to produce the 4.3 million gallons per day that comes from its well field. Capital cost would be $7.3 million and then $31.9 million over 25 years.
- Yukon would partner with Mustang to build a new plant and bring both cities’ water supply together – some 7.7 million gallons per day. This would cost $21.8 million to build and then $63.9 million over 25 years.
- As a long-term solution, Yukon and Mustang would build the water plant, bring their water together, obtain water rights from an outside community, then produce this water at the plant. This would cost $129 million up-front and $241 million over the next 25 years.
Another option to reduce how much Oklahoma City water must be purchased is for the City of Yukon to install an arsenic removal system at individual water wells.
Capital cost would be $562,000 to build and then $846,000 over 20 years. This process could begin in about six months.
But even if arsenic is removed at the well field, Adams noted Yukon would still have to buy a substantial amount of water from Oklahoma City.
KEEP THE CONTRACT
Yukon’s public works director recommended the city council keep the Oklahoma City water purchase contract in place unless the water cost increases significantly.
He doesn’t believe spending millions of dollars to build and maintain a new water facility is cost-effective right now.
“There are so many other capital projects we need to focus on,” Adams said.
In an Aug. 2nd letter to Kretchmar, Mustang City Manager Timothy Rooney shared his thoughts about building a new water treatment plant:
“While we find this to be an excellent long-term solution, staff believes it would be premature to begin construction of such a facility at this time.
“Mustang continues to invest in its current infrastructure and must continue to do so over the next several years in order to maximize them.”
Both Yukon and Mustang city councils are expected to consider dissolving COWRA at upcoming meetings.
The authority’s trust indenture indicates the trust will terminate “when the purposes have been fully executed,” Yukon city attorney Roger Rinehart noted.
If there is no outstanding contractual obligation or debt, COWRA may be terminated by agreement of its co-trustees – the cities of Yukon and Mustang – and Canadian County Commissioners as the trust beneficiary.
The governor also must approve disbanding the trust.
The City of Yukon had previously paid more than $30,000 annually to be a member of COWRA, although the organization hasn’t charged dues for three years.
Genie Vinson, a former Yukon City Council member and mayor, has served as Yukon’s representative on the COWRA board.