Water woes hit Barnsdall area

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said Monday that precautionary boil orders for the Barnsdall municipal water system and Rural Water District No. 5 had been lifted, following good test results.

DEQ spokeswoman Erin Hatfield clarified that the boil orders were self-imposed precautionary measures rather than state-imposed mandatory boil orders.

The precautionary boil orders had been put in place following an incident last week, in which the Barnsdall municipal water system lost pressure. RWD No. 5 buys its water from the municipal system.

David Mercer, the DEQ district engineer who works with the Barnsdall-area water systems, said in a telephone interview Friday that the problem may have started April 30 and water customers in the area were probably without water May 1-2, with water service being restored by May 3.

Patty Thompson, engineering manager for the Public Water Supply Group of DEQ’s Water Quality Division, said in the same telephone interview that the problem last week may have involved difficulty with the aging raw-water line through which untreated water is moved into Barnsdall’s water-treatment facility. That line may need checking, she said. Mercer voiced uncertainty at that point about whether the raw-water line was the problem.

Barnsdall City Attorney John Heskett said Monday that the water system could have been temporarily clogged by materials that may have broken loose when the water intake tower at Lake Waxhoma had been cleaned out. He clarified that there should be no shortage of water for the municipality to treat and provide to customers as long as all obstructions are cleared.

Thompson recalled that there were problems last summer with the Barnsdall municipal water system being able to produce enough treated water. A diver was hired to check the water-intake infrastructure, and some cleaning was done. Things improved, she said.

“And then after a while it got to where they were having problems again,” Thompson said. She and Mercer explained the city of Barnsdall has longstanding issues with both water quality and water quantity, and DEQ helps the municipality find grant funds to help make upgrades. They stressed that progress is being made, and said they encourage Barnsdall residents to take an active role in making sure the progress continues.

Heskett said Barnsdall city officials have worked very hard and made “unpleasant choices” to improve their drinking water and wastewater systems. A federally funded study was done, the water rate structure was analyzed and rates were increased to help pay for upgrades, he said.

Grant funding has been applied for to carry out a needed sewer-lagoon project, which has already been permitted, Heskett said. Additionally, the city is seeking funding to pay for engineering work on a lift-station rehab project, he said.

In the aftermath of the water-supply problem last week, the Pawhuska Journal-Capital heard from a RWD No. 5 customer who voiced a desire to have a discussion at the rural water entity’s next board meeting May 14, at 7 p.m. at Barnsdall City Hall, about whether to change water sources because of the municipal water system’s problems.

Asked what effect such a move could have on the city, Heskett said it could be very serious.

“That would be a huge blow,” he said, estimating that perhaps as much as 20-30 percent of the municipal water system’s revenues are derived from RWD No. 5 water purchases.