From the office of State Rep. Joe Dorman (D)
OKLAHOMA CITY_ Last weekend's rains have wreaked havoc for the citizens of western Oklahoma and again displayed the importance of improving Oklahoma's flood control system. Having taken an aerial tour of Kingfisher and parts of House District 65, I am confident the flooding in Chickasha and other areas would have been much, much worse without the existing upstream flood control dams that we currently have in place.
This flood served as an important reminder of why it is necessary to keep our existing dams in working order and build new dams in areas that are still without adequate protection. Few Oklahomans realize that many of our flood control dams have reached the end of their design life. In the next 10 years, roughly 1,000 flood control dams throughout Oklahoma will be in need of rehabilitation.
An example of this is one high-hazard dam near Anadarko that recently suffered damage due to rains both this weekend and earlier in the summer. At the time of my writing this column, all indications are that we have dodged the bullet and this dam will hold for now. It is evidence, however, of how important the repair and rehabilitation of our aging dam system is.
That is why this past spring I and other legislators fought to increase the funding to $6.5 million for dam rehabilitation in the state. This money was then matched at a 2-to-1 rate with federal money to generate a total of over $19 million for dam rehabilitation state wide. Much more needs to be done, however. On average it costs about $1 million to fix a dam. With 1,000 dams to repair, $19 million is only a drop in the bucket. On top of this, Oklahoma has over 300 dam sites statewide that have been designed, but never built.
Over twenty years ago, preliminary work was done on a series of 17 dams west and south of Kingfisher, and while these dams would not have completely stopped the flooding this weekend, they would have reduced the amount of damage this community suffered. In addition, most "normal" floods that affect Kingfisher could be greatly reduced, if not completely eliminated, if these dams were in place. Why haven't these dams near Kingfisher or the other 300 plus structures already on the drawing board statewide been built? Because the federal government has yet to fund them.
Watershed protection is an expensive project, but it's one that will save lives and property. Last year, we saw fires ravage Oklahoma. This year, rainfall has taken lives, ruined crops and destroyed property. The government has a responsibility to do everything possible to protect citizens from these natural disasters. Our law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and even volunteers have worked to help out their fellow Oklahomans. Now it's time the state and federal government do the same and place disaster prevention as a top priority.