Congressman Frank Lucas Says Rehab of Earthen Dams Built in the Late 1940s and 1950s Offers Protection of Property and Lives for Decades AheadMon, 29 Jul 2019 06:05:22 CDT
Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas grew up in western Oklahoma where hot dry weather can dominate the landscape, until storms rolling off the eastern slopes of the Rockies can bring extreme rains and flooding with little or no notice. Lucas says Oklahoma was at the forefront of the drive in the 1940s and 1950s to address those floods with what came to be known as the Upstream Flood Control Watershed Program. And he told Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays that his home county- Roger Mills County- was one of those areas hit hards by the rains and resulting floods back in the 1930s and that resulted in the the push by the early 1940s to make this program a reality. "In my own home community, the flood of 1934 that wiped out many of the people up and down the Washita River from central Roger Mills County on down to Hammon and then on down river- motivated my banker, a gentleman by the name of Red Males, he was the banker from 1924 to 1989...he was one of the first national activists who helped persuade Congress to build these small earthern dams to help protect property downstream."
Males was quite a champion for conservation from the time of that 1934 flood well into the 1980s- his obituary says "After the Hammon flood in 1934, Red decided to do something about erosion. He began the conservation movement in Roger Mills County by helping to form the Upper Washita Conservation District in 1938. In 1941 he was elected as supervisor of the district only to resign in 1944 to join the Armed Forces during World Warr II. In 1945 he was re-elected as supervisor and in 1946 was elected Chairman of the UWCD. In 1948 the construction of the Sandstone Creek Project began and only after a trip to Washington by "Red" did the Congress place it on a top priority list. In 1950 a frenzied effort began to get the project completed. 1953 saw the completion of the World's first upstream flood prevention project providing 68,770 acres of drainage. "Red" continued as the President of the Bank during this time and even served as the President of the Oklahoma Bankers Association in 1951. In 1955 he met with President Eisenhower to express the people's appreciation and to show aerial views of problems that were now cured and to point out those still needing attention." (Picture is of Red Males in front of the sign proclaiming the Sandstone Creek Project)
As Congressman Lucas began his career in farming and ranching in Roger Mills County in the 1980s- Red Males was still the banker in his community- and when Congressman Lucas captured the Sixth District Congressional Seat that was vacated by Glenn English in 1994, he understood the value of conservation and the value of the Upstream Dams that numbered in the thousands by the time he got to Washington. There are over 11,000 dams across the United States in 47 states- but Oklahoma has the most of any state of these earthen dams- 1,207 to be exact.
As Lucas arrived in Washington and took his seat on the House Ag Committee, the fifty year life expectancy of the dams was on the horizon- and that first dam that was built in 1948 in Roger Mills County was there. The western Oklahoma Congressman championed a bill that created a watershed dam rehabilitation program to be funded with two thirds of the money coming from the Federal government- and one third from local or state government.
The 2014 Farm Law had the fingerprints of Congressman Lucas on it as he served as the Chairman of the Committee, and that law included about $400 million in dam rehabilitation.
According to a report from the Natural Resource Conservation Service of USDA this past January, the rehab program that started with the Lucas legislation in the late 1990s has funded work on 294 dams in 31 states- fifty three of them in Oklahoma.
There's plenty of work still to be done- and more federal dollars are needed. Funding requests continue to come in to NRCS- with other 400 projects worth over a half a billion dollars in the backlog.
Congressman Lucas is optimistic that we will continue to find money at the federal level for the updating of these dams across the United States. And he says that we can rehab these dams better and stronger this go round- offering decades of extra life for these structures, which proactively save millions of dollars annually of property damage from ever occuring.
The Congressman told Hays "I would argue Ron with the new alloys for the let down pipe, with the better design, with the things we have done to control silt upstream- I suspect the fifty year expectancy of the 1940s and 50s dams- I think they may be good for a century." He adds that NRCS is not quite ready to make those kind of promises just yet- but that he thinks we are not far off from that.
Congressman Lucas adds "if there is such a thing as working on your legacy, as a member of Congress from Oklahoma, this was my historic legacy- we have taken it to the next step and we have improved it."
You can listen to Hays and Congressman Lucas talking about the Upstream Flood Control Watershed Program by clicking on the LISTEN BAR below.
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