Low lake levels devastating northwest Oklahoma town
CANTON — If you ever wanted to watch a town die, slowly slipping into history; you need to look no further than Canton, Oklahoma. The town has been around since before statehood and boasts that "progress" is its heritage on a mural downtown. That progress has all but halted in the past years as the water that once filled the reservoir went away. "I don't know if we can survive another summer without the lake people," said Carol Gilchrist inside her "This and That" store on Main Street Canton.Across the street from Gilchrist, the Canton Variety store closed up earlier this year. One-by-one the businesses along Main Street are shutting up and many wonder who's next."It's not just one business, it affects every business in town," Gilchrist said of the disappearing tourists. "It's devastating," said Alan Cox, owner of the Overlook Restaurant that sits alongside Canton Dam, "It ruins everything. Your economy is nothing."Cox and others say the final straw for the town came one year ago when Oklahoma City, facing its own drought, opted to once again claim its water rights to Canton Lake. The last water draw is what people in Canton refer to as "The Kill Shot." The lake hasn't recovered from the tens-of-thousands of gallons that went to fill up Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City. The lake is at record lows and continues to sink lower."I don't want to be a pessimist, but I really do believe this lake may be done," said Jeff Converse of the Canton Lake Association.Converse is the last person to give up on the lake he's lived around his entire life. He wants to believe things will get better, but the past years of drought coupled with the 2013 water draw have sunk his highest hopes. "It really makes you sick and I'm one of the most hardcore fishermen on this lake, I spend tremendous amounts of time on this lake and the conditions even have me down," Converse told Fox 25.The thing that gets people in Canton more upset than low lake levels is a trip to Oklahoma City, where they see lush green lawns that are watered with sprinkler systems that send water shooting into the streets and pouring down sidewalks and drains."You know that it's your economy that's going to waste it's just leaving and that's where it's going down the street in the drain and down the sewer," Cox said."Oklahoma City is living rainfall event to rainfall event with their water supply," Converse said. Converse and others in Canton pleaded with the city to delay taking the water release in early 2013 and hold off until after the Spring rains. Oklahoma City leaders disagreed and said taking the water draw during the winter was the only option to make the most of the precious resource."January and the winter months was a good time to take the release because once the ground get so hard and dry we tend to lose a lot of the water released due to the dry river bed," said Debbie Regan a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Utilities Department.However in May of 2013 the city had to release much of the natural rainfall that came with the record-breaking precipitation that fell.Regan said Oklahoma City has enacted mandatory water conservation measures and has plans to enact stricture measures if the water supply gets lower. Those changes have been in effect for more than a year. "We had to change our ways we use water and the ways we think about water," Regan said. "The damage is done, we got to have Mother Nature to fix it it's the only thing that can fix it, we have to have rain," Cox said. Canton is a community where the saying "Pray for Rain," isn't just a passing thought, it's often the only thought."Not normal rains, not above normal rains, but we're talking flooding rains to get this lake filled up," Converse told Fox 25.That may not be possible. Those flooding rains are rare in Western Oklahoma, even during the good times. And this is far from a good time for Canton."If the lake dies, the town dies," Converse said.