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Southwestern Oklahoma dams receive funding for rehabilitation

 a dam seen from the lake side. So you can just see concrete pillars holding a walkway and a concrete tower on either side of the dam. The water in the lake is quite brown, and the sky beyond the dam is clear blue.
Lawton received nearly $12 million for improvements to the dam at Lake Ellsworth.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved federal pandemic relief funding for two dam rehabilitation projects in Southwestern Oklahoma last week.

Lawton has received nearly $12 million to rehabilitate the 60-year-old dam at Lake Ellsworth. Most of that comes from federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). A FEMA grant program for dam safety chipped in $925,000, and over $14 million in local funds will complete the $26 million needed to rehabilitate the dam.

Expanding soils have damaged the structure’s concrete joints, earning it an “unsatisfactory” rating from Water Board inspectors. The aging dam captures drinking water for Lawton, Fort Sill and several other water systems, but it poses a risk to more than 5,000 people who live downstream, according to Lawton’s funding application. The funds will be used to retrofit the dam’s spillway and reinforce the apron at the bottom of the spillway with a new concrete slab, among other improvements.

Just southeast of Lawton, the City of Comanche has received $1 million in ARPA funds from the Water Board for dam improvements. Some of that money will go to refurbishing a lift station and water lines.

In Comanche’s original application for ARPA funds, city officials wrote an influx of new businesses had created a raw water shortage. The surge in demand forced the city to turn more often to Comanche Lake to supplement its primary water source, Lake Waurika. The ARPA funds approved last week will be used in part to reinforce, seal cracks in and remove trees around a city-owned dam.

That dam is the one at Comanche Lake, according to theSouthwest Ledger. That structure was completed in 1960 and has been classified as a high-hazard dam, meaning failure would likely result in deaths downstream.

Of its nearly $2 billion in federal pandemic relief funds from the ARPA, Oklahoma set aside $100 million for water and wastewater infrastructure projects last year, including $10 million specifically for dam rehabilitation. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is responsible for allocating those funds to communities across the state.

In addition to these dam rehabilitation projects, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved grant and loan funding from multiple sources for 19 other water and wastewater projects across the state.

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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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