If water is life, then Cleveland County Rural Water District No. 1 is in the business of supplying life to rural residents in the form of safe drinking water.
“We’ve been operational since March 2019,” said Richard Murnan, Rural Water District No. 1 Board Chair. “This system has some of the best water around here. We just have to chlorinate it.”
CCRWD-1 taps the Garber-Wellington aquifer which is deeper than private water wells.
“It’s actually two separate formations about 400 feet down, and it’s very good water,” Murnan said. “We currently have three wells, and we have the capacity to go up to a total of seven.”
Due to an increased need for safe drinking water, RWD-1 hopes to expand its service to people who live south of Noble in the Thunder Valley area and over to 60th Street to the east.
“We were notified by the Department of Environmental Quality that they need to get some additional safe water in that area,” he said. “There are some private water sources serving multiple homes that are having issues.”
The curving South Canadian River would be the western and the southern boundary of the expanded area of service. Murnan said DEQ is requesting that the water district become a regional source for safe drinking water.
“These days we don’t think about people right here in Oklahoma having issues with access to clean, safe water, but those issues do exist in some of our rural areas,” said District 3 County Commissioner Harold Haralson. “It’s crucial that we work side-by-side with our at-risk communities to ensure they have the quality water they need to thrive.”
Murnan said the county is working closely with the rural water board to find funding sources for the needed expansion.
“Commissioner Haralson is a physician, and he really understands the importance of a healthy water supply,” said Murnan.
In Cleveland County, sulfur and other minerals create a health hazard for affected areas because private wells tap water closer to the surface than that found in the aquifer.
“There are areas of Cleveland County that have high concentrations of minerals that makes the water unhealthy to drink,” Murnan said. “A lot of people, when they drilled wells, weren’t aware of the problems until they started having health issues.”
The Cleveland County Rural Water District No.1 came about to meet the need for safe drinking water in the rural, southern portion of the county. The district was officially formed under Title 82 O.S. Section 1324 cited as the Rural Water, Sewer, Gas and Solid Waste Management Districts Act commonly referenced as the Rural Water Act.
“There were quality and quantity issues with the water,” Murnan said.
CCRWD-1 joined over 750 public, nonprofit Rural Water Districts throughout Oklahoma in an effort to supply safe drinking water to their members. The rural water district is primarily run by volunteers.
“We operate with a seven-person board,” Murnan said. “It’s all volunteer, though we do have a contractor that acts as our assistant operator. I’m handling the billing, and our treasurer handles all of the financial stuff.”
Concerned county residents started working to create the rural water district — Cleveland County’s first and only — in 2003 with a steering committee. The group hoped to go operational within seven years, but met with some unique obstacles that delayed the creation of the new district.
“We had to go in and have an addition made to the state law to allow us to work with the Lexington Wildlife Management Area,” he said.
According to statute, a water district created under the Rural Water Act is an agency and legally constituted authority of the State of Oklahoma, but cannot levy any taxes or make any assessments on property. It is a public, nonprofit entity operated for the public purpose of developing and providing an adequate water supply to serve and meet the needs of rural residents within the territory of the district.
Cleveland County RWD No. 1 is working with no full-time paid staff compared to other rural water districts that usually have two or three paid staff members. Murnan said while they are hoping to hire a full-time staff member in the future, the district is managing quite well for now due to automation. The downside is they don’t have the financial backing to expand.
“We are working on a shoestring budget right now,” Murnan said. “The only way we can make this work is if every dollar for the needed expansion is paid for by grants.”
Murnan said the water district is working with Indian Health Services, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Cleveland County to find available grant money and move the project forward.
“A lot of people have lived in the area for a while, and their water may taste good but it’s not healthy for them. DEQ is wanting us to service an area with an ongoing problem in some of these water sources out there,” Murnan said. “We appreciate the partnerships of these agencies and particularly the support of Commissioner Haralson in helping us seek funding for this project. Right now, we’re doing a feasibility study to determine what the general cost would be. It’s hard with the way costs are fluctuating.”
For Haralson, the project is a priority for the health of District 3 and other county residents.
“Safe drinking water is a basic health need and particularly important for families with children and for vulnerable populations such as the elderly or those who already have health concerns,” Haralson said. “We are committed to providing any assistance we can in finding grant money and any other appropriate funding for this life-giving project.”