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Fallin Taps Emergency Fund and Feds To Fix Oklahoma’s Flood-Damaged Dams

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma
Oklahoma Conservation Commission Watershed Technitian Dennis Boney inspects damage to the Wildhorse 80 dam's spillway in Garvin County in July 2015.

Dozens of Oklahoma’s flood control dams took damage from heavy rains in spring 2015. Despite a looming state revenue failure, enough money was found in the state’s emergency fund for repairs.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday announced $1.8 million from the state emergency fund — which will qualify Oklahoma for even more in federal money — to fix 65 dams that kept floodwater out of farmland and residential areas in a swath of 16 counties in south-central and eastern Oklahoma.

Trey Lam, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, which oversees the dams through its local districts, says 2015 tested the limits of Oklahoma’s more than 2,000 flood control dams.

“There are dams that have space behind them, but they don’t hold water except in extreme floods. And there’d been decades since there had ever been any water in them,” Lam said. “Not only did they hold water, they filled up and it ran around the end of the dam.”

He says conservation districts are still assessing problems caused by floods in December, and estimates the dams prevented about $200 million in damage last year.

The Conservation Commission has had a difficult time funding its program to maintain the dams amid ongoing budget cuts, and it’s unclear how the agency will afford repairs to those damaged in rain events later in 2015.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
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