ADA – The city of Ada is on a water hunt for the future.
Ada is buying groundwater rights from individual holders pertaining to the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer at $300 per acre.
The 800-square-mile aquifer is Ada’s primary source for water by way of Byrds Mill Spring 13 miles south of this community of 17,000. Ada has already invested $36 million into its water system that includes a new water line to the springs, extensive repairs to water mains in the city, and the water treatment plant.
“We are trying to take the steps needed for our needs some 20 years, 50 years, 75 years into the future,” said Ada City Manager Cody Holcomb. “We do have plenty of water for our current needs.”
In the last census decade from 2000 to 2010, the city witnessed a population growth of 7.1 percent.
Holcomb says Ada currently uses 4,000 to 6,000 acre-feet of water annually as allowed by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. One acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons.
“The Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer is a sole-source aquifer,” said Cole Perryman with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. “In determining allocation, water for domestic use is set aside before the rest is allocated.”
Perryman explained that domestic use of underground water means household usage, farming and livestock, irrigation and for fire protection. Beneficial usage rights are a separate category. Ada and other communities in the region must live within the water allotments set by the state water board.
Unlike the state’s other aquifers, the Arbuckle-Simpson is recharged by rainwater only. The state’s other aquifers have waterways such as rivers flowing into them. Rain seeps through fractures in the limestone bedrock that makes up the Arbuckle mountain region, creating a large sponge-like underground lake for 800 square miles. It is the source of water for the numerous springs in the region and for the Blue River as well as Honey Creek, which flows over Turner Falls. More than 1,000 caves and springs have been cataloged in the limestone formation due to rain seepage.
By being a sole-source aquifer, the water has come under both state and federal regulations and has been the subject of lawsuits by private and industrial groups claiming the state has overstepped its authority.
Fearing overuse would cause lasting damage to the aquifer, the Oklahoma Legislature passed State Senate Bill 288 in 2003, requiring the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to set a sustainable maximum annual yield.
“I want to make clear we (Ada) supported 288 and its passage,” said Holcomb.
After a six-year study costing $6 million, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board set the maximum amount that can be taken out of the aquifer per year at 78,404 acre-feet. According to the study, a larger volume of water taken would see a negative effect on streams and springs dependent on the Arbuckle-Simpson.
A lawsuit was filed against the board in 2014 on behalf of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation, Pontotoc County Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, Environmental Federation of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Aggregates Association, Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer Protection Federation of Oklahoma Inc. and TXI Inc.
They argued that state law allows 726,858 acre-feet per year to be taken from the aquifer, nine times what the board was allowing for, and that the board’s cap was arbitrary.
In January this year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the entities challenging the cap on the aquifer.