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Kaw City again struggles with water supply

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KAW CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Restrictions on water use have already begun in this Kay County town, which is flanked on three sides by a lake but doesn't have the resources to tap that supply.

Homeowners are only allowed to water their lawns or gardens every other day, a now traditional summer practice that is designed to allow the town's water tower to refill from its two wells.

The inability to provide adequate water has town officials concerned about Kaw City's ability to grow.

``We have a jewel of a town on a jewel of a lake,'' said Scott Kremer, manager of the town's municipal trust authority. ``But we can't do any expansion.''

Kaw City is on a peninsula jutting into Kaw Lake, a flood control lake finished in 1976 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But when the lake was formed, the corps was only required to replace the town's water needs at the time, not for growth, said Phil Cline, a project manager in the Tulsa corps office.

The corps drilled two water wells for the town across the lake, and put the pipeline under the lake bed before Kaw Lake filled. Until 1976, the town had not accepted the water wells as sufficient for its needs.

In December 1978, the town's mayor accepted the wells.

``Once they sign off (and accept the wells), legally we can't do more'' Cline said.

In subsequent years, town officials complained that Kaw City's inadequate water supply didn't allow it to grow, either in homes or businesses.

In the early 1990s, one well failed, leaving a single well across the lake to supply the town. A shallow second well helped a little, but was intended only to meet state guidelines that any community have two water wells for public safety.

Meanwhile, summer tourists on the lake's dozens of campgrounds put a strain on the town's water supply, especially during the summer. A building moratorium and water restrictions started.

In 1999, then-City Manager Jack Rosson pushed for a $1.5 million federal grant to sink new wells nearby and a pipeline to connect with the town's water system. But the funds never made it into any final federal appropriations bills in 2000 or 2001, and Kaw City has not made a similar request this year.

Bonita Kellum, Kaw City mayor since April 2, wasn't aware the funds were not requested again, but assured that the town will put in a new bid.

``We'll certainly reissue that request,'' Kellum said.

With a pipeline under the lake, town officials shudder about the possibility of a rupture, or leaks or failure. Repairs would be costly and difficult, if even possible, said a corps ``white paper'' supporting the $1.5 million grant.

``It's scary,'' Kellum said. ``We have to have water, and hopefully we'll have no problems until we can get the new wells.''

Kremer said the town has surface water rights to Kaw Lake, but surface water has to be treated, unlike water wells. And a million dollar water treatment plant is out of Kaw City's price range, as is the yearly cost of providing around-the-clock staffing for a treatment plant, he said.

Trucking treated water from Ponca City would cost $2 million annually, and a pipeline to Ponca City treated water would cost $4 million, according to estimates.

Kremer said the town has seen a few businesses spurn Kaw City because of the water problem, and few new homes are likely for the same reason.

New wells would allow the town to at least double its population, Kremer said.

``If we wait four or five years, there won't be a town here. We're down to dire straits,'' he said.
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