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Recent flooding shows the need for upstream flood control

Recent flooding in Oklahoma has once again shown the need for the upstream flood control structures in our state said Scotty Herriman, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Oklahoma is home to more flood control dams than any other state, but many planned flood control dams have remained on the drawing board due to the lack of federal funding.

“Once again we are seeing the need for the upstream flood control program in Oklahoma.” Herriman said. “Earlier this spring and summer we saw how our existing flood control dams help by reducing the effects of flooding in the areas where they’re located. Now we are seeing not only seeing this benefit again, but we are also witnessing what happens when you have massive rains in areas were dams were proposed to be built, but where funding was never available. Clearly we have more work to do.”

According to Herriman, over 300 dams are currently on the drawing board statewide awaiting funding for construction. This is in addition to a study in the 1980’s that outlined a series of 17 dams to be built west and south of the City of Kingfisher. All of these dams have suffered from the effects of the reduction in federal funding for new construction and planning of upstream flood control projects, Herriman said.

“For the last few years the administration in Washington D.C. has proposed eliminating funding for the operation and planning of the upstream flood control program,” Herriman said. “They have consistently proposed eliminating funding for this program, effectively killing any chance of building any of these important structures. Thankfully most of Oklahoma’s delegation hasn’t agreed with them, but it has been an uphill battle.”

While the 17 dams proposed west of Kingfisher wouldn’t have prevented the flooding from the massive storm that swept across Oklahoma August 18, Herriman said it would have reduced the effects of the deluge, possibly saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Another stream that flows into Kingfisher, Uncle Johns Creek, has 12 flood control dams on its system that each year provide over $580,000 in savings from flooding that doesn’t occur,” Herriman said. “Uncle Johns Creek did flood this weekend, but it caused no where near the damage that Kingfisher Creek, a creek with no flood control dams, did. Nothing could stop all the flooding from Saturday’s rain, but a series of structures west and south of Kingfisher would greatly reduce and possibly eliminate the ‘normal’ flooding that periodically affects Kingfisher. These dams should at least be looked at and the other 300 plus dams that are already on the drawing board for other watersheds in our state need to be built if we are to adequately protect the public.”

In addition to these new dams, Herriman said that over 1000 existing Oklahoma flood control dams will be in need of rehabilitation and repair in our state during the next 10 years because of age and development issues. In an effort to address this issue the 2007 Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Henry approved a record $6.5 million for rehabilitation of aging existing dams which was then matched with federal funding to generate $19.5 million. According to Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, this funding represented a “shot in the arm” for flood dam repair, but much more needs to be done.

“We are very appreciative of the support we received from the state of Oklahoma and our Congressional Delegation for flood control rehabilitation this spring,” Pope said. “But when it costs on average $1 million to fix a dam and we have over 1000 dams that need to be fixed in the next 10 years, it’s clear we are just getting started.”

According to Pope, an example of these additional needs is one dam east of Kingfisher that during this last storm event reduced additional flooding in the town of Guthrie. This dam, which must be rehabilitated soon, will cost over $10 million to fix.

“Clearly the need for new construction of dams in areas like those around Kingfisher and the need to repair our existing dams before one breaks and kills someone shows that the upstream flood control program needs to become a priority for the government at all levels,” Pope said.

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