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Agricultural News

Aging Oklahoma Dam Infrastructure Getting Facelift

Fri, 18 Jul 2014 19:52:54 CDT

Aging Oklahoma Dam Infrastructure Getting Facelift
Oklahoma's aging watershed dams will undergo renovation with a significant investment from federal and state government. Oklahoma will receive a large portion of the $262 million dollars that will be used for restoration projects in 26 states across the country. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller and Representative Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Governor Mary Fallin, among others made the announcement Friday at Perry Lake near Perry, Okla.

"This is a massive infusion, this is significant investment that is going take what would normally we would get the period of 10 or 12, 15 years, we're getting in one year and that's being delivered by the Farm Bill, that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, gave us these resources to go out and get the job done much faster provide that protection and benefits to communities much quicker," Weller said

This has been a 14 year effort for House Ag Chairman and Oklahoma Congressman Lucas. In every Farm Bill since 2002, Lucas has pushed resources toward upstream flood control. As Chairman of the Conference Committee, Lucas says this allowed him to make watershed rehabilitation a national priority.

"Whether you are drinking water in Perry (Okla.) or you are concerned about a flood in Mississippi or Texas, everybody benefits from this," Lucas said. "This is longterm infrastructure that will make a difference for generations."

Oklahoma will receive $26 million dollars or about 10 percent of the total cost share funding being made available nationally. The Oklahoma Legislature has already allocated $3 million dollars for the project. Governor Mary Fallin says this joint effort will allow Oklahoma to invest in its infrastructure.

"So now we will be able to invest some money back into those infrastructure projects that will be able to provide health and safety and certainly the water supply of our state," Fallin said. "Of course the watersheds are very important for wildlife activity, for recreational activity, for agriculture purposes and certainly for the drinking water supply of our communities across the state."

One of the structures that will be renovated will be Perry Lake, also known as Watershed Dam No. 62 in the Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed of Noble County. The dam provides protection against flooding to about 550 Oklahomans who live and work downstream. The dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways and an interstate highway that, together, support about 16,200 vehicles daily. The dam also protects power lines and railroad tracks. The rehabilitation project is expected to provide about $7.5 million in benefits including flood damage reduction, water supply and recreational benefits. Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director Mike Thralls says this is just one of the state's many dams that is in need of renovation.

"I would rank them as a C+, maybe heading toward a B-," Thralls said. "We got a considerable backlog of maintenance and we really have not been able to do major maintenance projects on anything but high hazard dams for about the last four years."

With this latest funding announcement, Thralls says they will immediately begin work on four projects with work continuing into July 2015. With this being a joint effect between the federal and state government, he says they will be asking the legislature for additional funding for the other 10 renovation projects.

"What incumbent upon us is that we make sure that NRCS is still willing to give use the technical assistance we need to maintain these dams and that we have adequate funds so that we can do the work to keep them in good operating condition," Thralls said.

This year Oklahoma has 800 dams that have reached their design life. By July 2015 that number will increase to 1,100, representing half of the state's watershed dams. Thralls says this shouldn't be take lightly as this becomes a desperate situation if we have a failure and that is something none of us want to see.   

Funds will be used for planning, design or construction. Also, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through NRCS' Watershed Rehabilitation Program. For a complete list of the projects, please visit the FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table page. The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250 thousand people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.



Leslie Smith visits with Congressman Frank Lucas
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