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'We are in desperate need': communities in southeast Oklahoma run out of water as they wait for repairs

Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma
Chris Zúniga / Flickr
Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma

Some people near Sardis Lake in southeast Oklahoma ran out of water last week while waiting on repairs to their water treatment system. The water is back on, but the area is on a boil order without a definite end date.

The Sardis Lake Water Authority found on June 8 that their treated water was five times cloudier than the standard limit. This leaves the water provided to residents in local communities from Sardis Lake at risk of contamination from bacteria and other microorganisms.

Contract engineers with WesTech, a Utah-based engineering firm, identified a problem with the treatment system’s clarifier, which removes solid particles from the water, making it easier to filter. To do this, they drained and disassembled the clarifier, according to Jeanene Scarberry with the Sardis Lake Water Authority.

“WesTech left here and didn't put it back together where we could put water in it,” Scarberry said.

The Water Authority tried operating without the clarifier, but the water started to clog their filters, forcing them to turn the water off.

The shut-off lasted three days late last week. Most communities were able to draw from their water towers for the duration of the shut-off. But some residents in Nashoba, Snow and Divide ran out of water, according to a Facebook post by the Pushmataha County Rural Water District #5.

For now, the water is back on, but the filtration problems persist.

“We are putting out good water,” Scarberry said. “But we're going to stay under the boil order until the clarifier is completely fixed.”

The timeline for those repairs is uncertain. Scarberry said fixing the clarifier will cost $95,000, which is higher than she’d expected. The Sardis Lake Water Authority is working with the Choctaw Nation and Pushmataha County Commissioners as they apply for an emergency grant from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

“We are in desperate need for somebody to help us down here,” Scarberry said. “We are a small community, and we get overlooked.”

If the Water Authority can come up with the money, repairs could take place next week. If not, the boil order could last into July.

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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