Oklahoma flood control dams saved state over $20 million during recent heavy rains
More than $70 million would be lost each year without dams
The heavy rains that hit Oklahoma April 26 through May 2 have once again shown the importance of Oklahoma's 2,000 plus upstream flood control dams, said Trey Lam, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Without this flood control protection system, Lam said over $20 million in additional flood damage would have taken place in our state.
"These huge rain events again show the benefit our state receives every year from our flood control structures," Lam said. "Oklahoma has more flood control dams built under the USDA watershed program than any other state in the union, dams that according to economists at the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided an additional $20 million in savings during these last storm events. Once again our flood control system has proven its worth."
Designed to stop the dangerous flash floods, Lam said that these dams, in both rural and urban settings, have for over 50 years protected Oklahomans from the ravages of out-of-control water, saving countless lives and billions of dollars.
"Each year the state of Oklahoma is saved over $70 million in damage that doesn't happen because these dams are in place," Lam said. "We should be proud of this vital piece of public infrastructure that does so much to protect our state. Often, we don't think about the benefit these dams provide. It's storm events like this one that bring the benefit of the flood control program into focus and help remind us of the need to keep this system in good repair."
While the system works as designed, Lam said that over 1,000 of these flood control dams will be past their design life in the next 10 years and will be in need of rehabilitation. In addition, over $25 million in operation and maintenance needs are on hold due to funding levels at the State Conservation Commission. Many dams were also damaged by the heavy flooding that hit Oklahoma in 2007. In an effort to help address these and other issues, the state Legislature and Governor Henry have again authorized the $25 million bond issue for conservation repair that was signed into law last year. Of this bond, over $15 million will be dedicated to the rehabilitation, repair and maintenance of flood control structures. These state dollars will also go to match over $14 million in federal rehabilitation dollars that were included in the recently passed federal stimulus package. According to Clay Pope, executive director of OACD, while this represents "a huge shot in the arm" for conservation, concerns still remain about funding to maintain our state's flood control structures.
"The governor and the legislature showed real leadership and foresight in reauthorizing the $25 million bond issue for conservation repair," Pope said. "Our flood control and conservation infrastructure suffered severe damage from the floods of 2007; and, without this money, rain events, like we have witnessed this past month, could someday become disasters--taking lives and costing millions of dollars in damage. Now we have to make sure that our state budget for conservation administration is not cut to the bone, so that we can maintain the administrative infrastructure needed to get these state and federal dollars on the ground. We have money to start the repairs; now we just need to maintain the implementation infrastructure to get the work done."