POSTED ON JULY 27, 2011:
Record-breaking water usage and one confirmed dead after stifling summer temps
The cicadas are revving up earlier and earlier with a low-pitched scream that lasts all day. Heat cracks over your head and oppresses your chest. You can't even look outdoor workers in the eye anymore as you cruise by with the air conditioning blasting.
It's summertime in Tulsa. Excessive heat warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service.
People are reporting water main breaks after record-shattering usage.
One 25-year-old man, who was working construction in an environment that wasn't air-conditioned, died recently from heat-related illness, confirmed EMSA public information officer Chris Stevens.
Another elderly woman was hospitalized in "fairly serious condition" after simply being outdoors, Stevens said.
In a press conference on July 21, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and other community leaders gave updates about the heat wave rolling through Tulsa this summer.
Tulsans set a new record for water usage on July 16 after consuming 204.1 million gallons a day (MGD). The previous record was 190.5 MGD used on July 25, 1999, according to the city's website.
Yet Bartlett said the City of Tulsa is doing swimmingly, despite high levels of water usage. He emphasized that we are "in very, very good shape."
A great thing about Tulsa is "the availability of our water and our ability to deliver it," Bartlett said.
"The lakes that feed into our municipal water system are looking good, too," said Clayton Edwards, director of the Sewer and Water Department.
The two treatment plants, Mohawk and A.B. Jewell, are also faring well this summer. Together, the plants can provide a maximum of about 220 MGD.
However, demand is still at or above record levels. Tulsa used 191 MGD and 194 MGD on July 19 and 20 respectively, Bartlett said.
In 2010, the city's water use averaged 107.8 MGD.
If these numbers run true to form, August may bring with it higher water usage and the possibility of more stringent water restrictions. The city has a tiered system, with restrictions moving from voluntary to mandatory.
As of press time, Bartlett has requested a voluntary cutback before restrictions are triggered by even higher water usage.
Oklahoma City hasn't been as lucky, and citizens there currently have mandatory water restrictions.
While many Tulsans are concerned about their green front lawns, others are worried for their health and safety as EMSA continues to receive a high number of heat-related calls.
"So far this summer, from June 1 until now [July 21], EMSA paramedics have responded to a little over 190 patients for heat-related illness," Stevens said.
Five or more calls in a day are required to issue a heat warning in the city. This July, EMSA received 17 calls from heat-sick patients in one 24-hour period.
"The common thread that a lot of people have told us is that they've had little to no water during the day," according to Stevens. "The heat doesn't care about your age or your gender or your race, it's affecting everyone."
Cooling stations are now open around the clock to help those in need of cold water and air conditioning, said Roger Joliff, director of the Tulsa County Emergency Management Agency, while confirming the stations, such as the one at Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, are seeing a lot of people.
The mayor asked Tulsans to voluntarily cut back on water use by avoiding half-loads of laundry and dishes, while also cutting back on outdoor watering, like watering the driveway and sidewalks accidentally.
If voluntary efforts aren't enough, high MGD levels will trigger further restrictions. "The City of Tulsa has ordinances that set triggers for the mayor to impose voluntary and mandatory water restrictions," said Edwards.
However, he added, "We are not yet reaching those triggers but we recommend that our customers use water wisely."
Despite drought and continuous days of triple-digit temperatures, Tulsa County is one of the few areas in the state that hasn't issued a burn ban. Yet.
Fire chiefs in each city fill out a survey with five or six questions about fire behavior. The answers to these questions decide whether a burn ban is required, explained Joliff.
The heat and excessive drought has affected another important aspect of the state: hay. On July 22, Governor Mary Fallin signed an executive order to allow hay haulers to carry larger loads.
Ongoing dry weather has left some Oklahoma farmers without access to hay for livestock. Fallin's order changes the current rules on hay transport by increasing the allowed dimensions of hay-hauling space to 12 feet, up from 11.
This new order doubles the number of hay bales hauled per truck because a standard bale is six feet wide. Additionally, the executive order temporarily suspends the requirement of an oversized vehicle permit.
"The historical drought we are now facing is having a serious impact on our entire state, and farmers are among the hardest hit," Fallin said. "Many farmers are experiencing shortages of hay, leaving their livestock severely underfed."
Earlier this year, wheat farmers reported a relatively paltry wheat crop due to lack of rain.
The executive order will remain in effect for 60 days.
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