Chicken-Fried News: Dam problems 

click to enlarge INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
Oklahoma’s got at least 1,400 problems, and dams are all of them. Out of Oklahoma’s 2,107 flood-control dams, that is the number currently past their dam 50-year life expectancy.

Larry Caldwell, an Oklahoma Conservation Commission watershed specialist, told StateImpact that the heavy rain in May would have caused “$16.5 million worth of damages” if the dams did not exist. Caldwell also said two-thirds of the dams managed by Conservation Commission were at or exceeded their “50-year design life,” at which point soil can erode and pipes could burst, posing a dam threat to people downstream.

Oklahoma Water Resources Board labeled about 400 flood control dams as “high hazard,” which means residents could die if they fail. Another 200, considered “significant hazard,” would cause millions of dollars in damages, according to StateImpact.

We clearly need a dam solution, and we need it fast. The state’s 2020 budget included $1.5 million for dam improvement, and the state sold about $5 million in bonds on behalf of Conservation Commission. But Caldwell estimates it would take about $2 million per dam to meet current standards. That is a lot of dam money needed in a state where elected officials historically disregard the environment.

Oklahoma is actually a Top 10 state when it comes to dams. It leads the nation in flood control dams, but that could all literally come crashing down. The state is expected to get more dam rain, which would push the dams to their limits even more.

“We do know that heavy precipitation events, more intense precipitation events, have been increasing over time. And that is expected to continue to increase as we warm the atmosphere,” state climatologist Gary McManus told StateImpact. “If the weather changes, the infrastructure has to change with it, at least in the long term.”

We totally agree with McManus, but by the time we get enough Oklahoma politicians on board with the idea of climate change, it might already be too dam late. 

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