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To develop a state flood plan, Oklahoma officials seek better understanding of community flooding hazards

Nathan Rott / NPR
Flooding along Hwy 16, north of Muskogee, Oklahoma in May 2019.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is working on a comprehensive plan to protect Oklahomans from the effects of flooding. To do that, the board is gathering information about flooding across the state.

In 2019, a bevy of severe thunderstorms hit the Tulsa area and waters rose in Keystone Lake. The Army Corps of Engineers had to release water from the Keystone Dam, overwhelming the banks of the Arkansas River. The resulting floods cost the city of Tulsa $12.3 million in repairs, according to reporting from theTulsa World. That doesn’t include damage to homes and businesses.

The following year, the state legislature passed a bill that tasks the Oklahoma Water Resources Board with creating an official Oklahoma Flood Plan. OWRB must develop a list of projects that will protect communities from flooding. The bill also mentions the creation of a dedicated fund for these projects, but no funding has been set aside.

Aaron Milligan is working on the flood plan at the OWRB. He said the board will perform cost-benefit analyses for the projects.

“So we could go to the legislature and say, ‘If you give us X number of dollars, these are those flood mitigation projects we can do,’” Milligan said.

Milligan explained that many smaller communities have trouble securing funding for crucial flood mitigation projects.

“We just we saw a lot of areas that needed a project—you know, a bulldozer dump truck project—that can eliminate flooding, or reduce flooding,” Milligan said. “But it wasn't getting done.”

The flood plan will provide a framework for communities to seek funding through the state, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and through special funding opportunities. But to design an effective plan, the OWRB needs to learn as much as it can about funding needs across the state.

“If we had every community in the state contact us and give us information, that would be a perfect world,” Milligan said.

City, county and tribal governments can submit a short survey about flooding in their communities. Milligan said participation has been good, but they hope to hear from more communities before the survey closes this Friday, September 30th.

Milligan said the Oklahoma Flood Plan should be ready for approval sometime next summer.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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