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An estimated $30 million could be needed to repair storm damages to Oklahoma Conservation Infrastructure; little federal help expected

Oklahoma City- The torrential rains that ravaged Oklahoma this spring, summer and early fall generated an estimated $30 million in damages to conservation practices throughout Oklahoma according to early numbers compiled by conservation districts and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

“The system that we have built over the last 70 years suffered extensive damage,” said Mike Thralls, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “The work that has been done since the dust bowl to protect our natural resources and to control flooding in our state was really knocked for a loop. We have never seen this level of damage.”

According to Thralls, several of the state’s flood control dams suffered damage to the principal and emergency spillways and in some cases damage was caused to the dam itself.

“We had several structures hit hard by this rain with one being damaged to the point of being on the verge of breaking,” Thralls said. “Clearly we have a lot of repair work to do.”

Information released by the Conservation Commission showed the need for over 8.8 million additional dollars to rehabilitate several high hazard dams. This figure was on top of the estimated $7.1 million for operation and maintenance of these and other flood control structures. The Commission also proposed that an additional $8 million should be made available to landowners on a cost-share basis to repair damaged conservation practices such as terraces, waterways, farm ponds and other erosion control measures with another $3 million needed to restore riparian systems in Caddo County. Additional funds are also required to address road-side erosion and to purchase equipment. While all of these numbers are subject to change as assessment of the damage continues, one thing according to the Conservation Commission is clear. A majority, if not all of these funds will have to come from the state.

“We are currently in discussion with Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) and with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),” Thralls said. “Based on our conversations thus far it looks like Oklahoma will be mostly on it’s own in trying to deal with this disaster. Our discussions with the Federal Government have not been encouraging.”

According to Scotty Herriman, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), this total amount of damage represents a huge cost for conservation in Oklahoma.

“Last spring the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Henry made a huge commitment to conservation by appropriating a record $18.5 million to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission,” Herriman said. “This freak weather we witnessed this year has blown a hole in the improvements we have done since the dust bowl. If we want to insure the protection provided to Oklahomans by our flood control dams, if we want to keep sediment and nutrients out of our water supply and control erosion, if we want to ensure we don’t have dust storms like those in the 1930’s when it again turns dry, then we have to repair this system. This initial estimate of $30 million is a lot of money, but we have never, ever seen damage like this before. It’s a big request, but we know what can happen if we don’t have conservation practices in place.”

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