While Congress can't agree on how to avert the fiscal cliff, federal lawmakers are making progress on a water problem affecting nearly 200,000 people in central Oklahoma. By next month, Lake Thunderbird is expected to shrink to a record low.
In a letter from the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District to metro city managers, experts on water conservation say reducing consumption is key. They also say supplying Lake Thunderbird with additional sources of water will be necessary.
"I think it's important to all of us residents," longtime Norman resident Elvin Brown said.
Starting January 1, 2013, Midwest City, Del City and Norman will need to reduce water consumption by 10 percent in order to keep Lake Thunderbird alive and well. Currently, the water level is 7 1/2 feet below the top of the water conservation pool.
"Once you get out of the conservation pool, you're in pretty dire straits," Norman mayor Cindy Rosenthal said. "It's a very serious situation."
The situation is so serious that Rosenthal says her city will likely need to buy water from Oklahoma City until a short-term solution can be found.
"That's not a good prospect," Brown said. "Oklahoma City … probably needs all of its water."
A temporary fix to the water woes is on the horizon. Congress is now allowing water from outside Lake Thunderbird's basin to be brought into the lake under periods of drought. City leaders are hoping a pipeline from Lake Atoka to Oklahoma City will be the answer by adding a new pipeline to the network to supply Lake Thunderbird with more water.
For now, people in the three cities are being asked to conserve. Soon, they will ordered to conserve.
"We're going to have to be instituting mandatory rationing probably very early on in the usual growing season," Rosenthal said.
The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District is warning city managers that the drought may likely extend for the next two or three years.
City leaders are also considering the possibility of building a new reservoir in the area. However, leaders say that could take 10 to 15 years to complete.