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Norman Project History (45KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits
General Description

The Norman Project provides a supplemental municipal water supply for the cities of Norman, Del City, and Midwest City, Oklahoma, flood protection to lands south and east of the project area, and significant recreation benefits. Principal features are Norman Dam on Little River about 13 miles east of Norman, two pumping plants, and pressure pipelines to serve the three cities. No irrigation features or power development are included in the project.

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Water stored in Lake Thunderbird, the reservoir produced by the construction of Norman Dam, is pumped into two pipelines, one serving the city of Norman directly and the other leading to the relift pumping plant where separate pipelines serve the communities of Del City and Midwest City, both suburbs of Oklahoma City. The reservoir adds greatly to recreation facilities in the vicinity.

Facility Descriptions

Norman Dam is located at the confluence of Hog Creek and Little River about 13 miles east of Norman, and about 30 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The dam is a zoned earthfill embankment with a volume of about 3 million cubic yards. The crest of the dam is 30 feet wide, 7,263 feet long, and about 144 feet high. The spillway is located in the left abutment and has a morning-glory inlet with an ungated crest of 22-feet 4-inch diameter.

Pipeline System

From the reservoir pumping plant on the north shore of Lake Thunderbird, two pipelines serve the communities in the project. One of the lines extends westward 8.4 miles to the city of Norman; the other northwest 12.5 miles to a relift pumping plant within the city limits of Oklahoma City.

Pumping Plants

The reservoir pumping plant has eight vertical shaft, turbine-type pumps. Four pumps, driven by four 200- horsepower motors, each have a capacity of 5.72 cubic feet per second at 228 feet of total head. These pumps provide 22.9 cubic feet per second capacity in the Norman pipeline. The other four pumps, driven by 350-horsepower motors, each have a capacity of 7.35 cubic feet per second at 320 feet of total head. These pumps provide the capacity through the Midwest City-Del City line to the relift pumping plant.

The Midwest City-Del City pipeline has a design capacity of 28 cubic feet per second to the relift pumping plant, at which point the capacity is divided into 20.1 cubic feet per second to Midwest City and 7.9 cubic feet per second to Del City. The relift pumping plant has eight horizontal centrifugal pumps. Four of these units, driven by 100- horsepower motors, provide water to Midwest City. Each has a capacity of 5.27 cubic feet per second at a total head of 138 feet. The four remaining pumps provide water to Del City. Two pumping units, driven by 40-horsepower motors, have a capacity of 2.49 cubic feet per second each, and two units, driven by 25-horsepower motors, have a capacity of 1.66 cubic feet per second each. Total head is 104 feet.

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Settlement of the public lands in the former Indian Territory progressed rapidly once they were opened to entry. The cattle ranches of the early days soon converted to a crop-based economy. The relatively high rainfall-33 to 35 inches in the project area inhibited demand for irrigation water supplies, and the abundance of ground water available in aquifers beneath the land in the vicinity of Oklahoma City slowed development of surface water resources. However, discovery of oil and natural gas led to a rapidly expanding population, with consequently heavier demands on the underground water supply. A progressive lowering of the water table and deterioration in the quality of water withdrawn from wells encouraged the local communities to seek supplemental water resources.


In the course of normal investigations of flood potential of the rivers of the United States, the Corps of Engineers submitted a report on the Little River that appeared as House Document No. 308, 74th Congress, 1st session, in 1936. This was followed in 1947 by a report by the Tulsa District, Corps of Engineers. Both reports concluded that improvements to Little River for flood control and allied water uses were not economically justified. Following a public hearing on the reports, in 1948 a Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors recommended to the Chief of Engineers that the unfavorable opinion expressed in the District Engineer`s report and concurred in by the Division Engineer be upheld.

Local interests continued their endeavor to enlist support for development of surface water resources, and the Bureau of Reclamation was asked to include studies of the Little River Basin looking to development of a water supply for the city of Norman, flood control, and other benefits with the studies of the Arkansas-White-Red Basin begun in 1946. As a result of this request, a reconnaissance study of a reservoir at the Upper Norman site was made in 1949.

In June 1953, Oklahoma City joined with Norman, Midwest City, Del City, Moore, and Tinker Air Force Base to request that they be included in studies of a project at a site downstream on Little River from the Upper Norman site. It was concluded from this study that, during early years of the proposed development, a surplus of water would be available for use by Oklahoma City, but that within a 25- to 30-year period, the other beneficiaries would require all available water. In 1953, the Central Oklahoma Water Users Association was formed, excluding Tinker Air Force Base and the town of Moore.

Reports of the Bureau of Reclamation studies appeared successively as a feasibility report in December 1954, issued as House Document 420, 85th Congress, 2d session, in 1959; a reappraisal report in May 1959; and the definite plan report in May 1961.

The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District for Norman Project was formed by decree of the District Court of Cleveland County, Oklahoma, on September 10, 1959, and validated on January 31, 1961.


The Norman Project was authorized by act of Congress, Public Law 86-529, 86th Congress, June 27, 1960 (74 Stat. 225).


Construction began on Norman Dam in 1962 and was completed in 1965. Construction began on the pipelines and pumping facilities in 1963 and was completed in 1965.

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No irrigation development is contemplated as part of the project. About 750 acres of land in areas previously subject to flooding can be irrigated since the dam has been constructed, but the tracts are discontinuous and can best be served by individual or small group developments.

Municipal and Industrial

As the primary purpose of the project, municipal water is furnished to the communities of Norman, Midwest City, and Del City by pumping from Lake Thunderbird. Norman Dam regulates runoff on Little River which, when integrated with existing ground-water sources, satisfies the municipal water needs of the three communities.


A major secondary benefit of the project is recreation. Lake Thunderbird, situated in central Oklahoma near Oklahoma City, Norman, and several other cities, hosts over a million visitors each year. The State of Oklahoma has established Lake Thunderbird State Park on the shores of the 6,070-acre lake, which is framed by rolling, oak-covered hills and sandy shores with some 86 miles of shoreline at top of active conservation capacity elevation 1039.0. Fishing is excellent with largemouth bass, catfish, and walleye being the sought after species. A large public hunting area offers such game as ducks, geese, rabbit, deer, squirrel, and quail in season.

The recreation areas of Lake Thunderbird are administered by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

Flood Control

The Little River Basin is long and narrow, with streamflow generally in a southeast direction. Runoff from the upper portions of the basin is rapid during storm periods and the duration of flooding varies from a few hours to several days. Releases from the flood-control pool are made in accordance with regulations prepared by the Corps of Engineers, dated January 1965, in concurrence with the Bureau of Reclamation, and in close cooperation with the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District, the entity which has assumed operation and maintenance responsibility for the project facilities.

Construction of Norman Dam has reduced the flood hazards on Little River to its confluence with the Canadian River, and flood control operation will continue to provide benefits to the downstream areas.

Lake Thunderbird has 76,648 acre feet of capacity assigned to flood control and surcharge capacity of 171,300 acre-feet. The Norman Project has provided an accumulated $34,344,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999.

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Last updated: Apr 05, 2013