Spillway

Flooding, water rationing and infrastructure problems continue to plague Rogers County as recent rain left waterways, like the Oologah Lake spillway, over capacity.

Uncertainty and frustration plague Rogers County residents in Rural Water District 3 as they approach a month of water access issues.

Following severe storms on May 20 and 21, multiple pipeline breaks have endangered access to clean drinking water.

As of Tuesday, a rationing order is in place as one 8-inch pipeline is supplying around a quarter of the county by land area.

While most residents can currently get at least a small stream of water through their pipes, it is not enough to perform basic household tasks.

And residents are questioning the drinkability of the water with a precautionary boil order in place.

Residents Zach Shambles, Crystal White, Sean Long, Frankie Long and Layla Freeman spoke about how water issues are affecting their lives and businesses.

“A few weeks ago we were without water for about three days. This time around we have been without water for about three days, also,” Shambles said. “It's a little hard. One minute we have water, the next minute we don't, with no warning. But we are grateful to have some type of water when we get it.”

“Thankfully, we have friends in Claremore so we go there to take a shower and do some laundry,” Shambles said.

White said her family was only without water for one day.

“We have lower water pressure, but so far we’ve been on the lucky side of Foyil,” White said. “We just have to conserve water and boil everything.”

For Sean and his wife Shannon Long the lack of water impacted their business, Big Star Kidz & Co. day care in Foyil.

After finding out their building didn’t have water Sunday night, the couple was forced to give the families of their 35 kids less than 24 hours notice to make other day care arrangements.

The Department of Health and Human Services legally requires that all daycares have running water while students are present.

“Some parents found some daycare for the Monday we closed, but some did not,” Sean said. “So the community has had the impact of parents not going to work, missing out on their paycheck, or using their time off to take care of their kids.”

The daycare itself lost between $2,000 and $3,000 worth of income and six employees were forced to take the day off without pay.

“Even though it is just micro in terms of a problem in a community like Foyil where there is not a lot of people,” Sean said, “the trickle down effect is pretty huge.”

At home, the water pressure is so low, Sean said, “Nobody is taking showers. Nobody is getting clean.”

Freeman said that when it comes to water access, you don’t realize how good you have it until it is gone.

“You can’t do laundry like normal. You can’t water your dogs like normal. You have to go get gallons of water,” Freeman said. “It effects even things like brushing your teeth.”

“You are constantly reminded of how many things we use that utilize water,” she said. “If you have a garden, you can’t even water your garden right now, and for some people that is their back-up for feeding their family.”

Like many residents, Frankie was confused about what does and does not count as essential use.

“Are they telling us not to do laundry? Can we take baths?” Frankie asked.

“We are told that we have little water, but if we use too much they are going to come shut our water off, so that's a little confusing. I don't know whether I can take a shower or not,” Shambles said. “And then they still can't give us a timeline on when things will be fixed.”

Sean shut the pump to his pool off since rationing prevents him from keeping it full.

“In the long run in will end up costing me $400 or $500 to get chemicals, turn the pool back on, and clean it.”

In order to conserve water, their cows and steer are roaming free in the pasture instead of being locked up so they can get water from the ponds instead of being watered from the rationed supply.

There are mixed reviews about the district’s notification process for informing residents of the ongoing situation.

Shambles and Freeman were signed up for text and email alerts before things got out of hand.

“I’ve been getting updates constantly and I felt so bad for the employees, because they were not getting any sleep,” she said. “They have been incredible. They were notifying us of every single detail from the very beginning when the flooding started.”

“It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, they would let us know,” Freeman said.

But for he White and Long families, the situation felt a lot more like being left out of the loop.

“The water district didn’t do anything to let us know. I had friends that didn’t even know what was going on because they didn’t have them on Facebook,” White said, adding, “None of their maps make a bit of sense.”

“All of the notifications came through social media like Facebook,” Sean said. “You’ve got a phone number for everybody in your district. Why are you not calling customers and letting them know what is going on? Why are you not sending out daily newsletters saying ‘here’s where we are at.’”

Tensions also seem to be running high as residents call into the district for information.

“When you call there, it is total chaos and dysfunction throughout Rural Water District 3,” Sean said.

“When we call and try to ask questions they get very testy and rude,” Shambles said. “I'm sure they are having to deal with a lot of mean people but we just want to know what's going on.”

Sean also expressed concern about what he perceives as a lack of preparedness in the district.

“Why is there no contingency of operation plan in place for something like this?” Sean asked. “I know we don’t count on natural disasters, but this is pretty simple. If we lost all these water lines, what would we do to service the community?”

Sean said there was more the district could be doing to fix this problem, but the lack of preparation for this kind of catastrophic event has put them behind.

“It is something they have never encountered, and probably being a small rural water district they don’t invest a lot in contingency of operations,” Sean said. “But if you look at utilities across Oklahoma, you don’t see this kind of thing. They have the water on in Webbers Falls and Webbers Falls was under five feet of water.”

“These natural disasters, they don’t happen every day, but everybody should be prepared for them,” Sean said. “Especially when you affect an entire community.”

Despite the frustrations, everyone expressed gratitude to the community members and public officials who have stepped up to provide for the public need.

“We are thankful that people have stepped up and brought water out to the fire department to drink,” Frankie said.

In addition to the Foyil Fire Department, the Light of Hope Food Pantry is also open and providing food and water to those in need.