PERRY — Stan Mullins remembers floods in the late 1950s that threatened people, property and crops and left his family’s farm underwater.
That was before local officials in this part of north-central Oklahoma built flood-control structures with assistance from a Natural Resources Conservation Service program to protect against such disasters.
Federal and state officials gathered Friday at one such structure, a dam on Perry Lake, to announce $262 million in funding under the 2014 Farm Bill to rehabilitate or assess the condition of hundreds of dams across the nation, including $26.4 million for Oklahoma projects. The idea is to make sure these dams, many built more than a half-century ago, are safe and in good condition for the future.
The Perry Lake dam, officially called Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed Dam No. 62, is one of those scheduled for rehabilitation work. Built in 1963, it provides protection against flooding to about 550 people who live and work downstream, while also protecting nearby highways, power lines and railroad tracks. The lake provides drinking water to Perry, which is about 25 miles northwest of Stillwater.
Nearby flood control projects built in the Upper Red Rock Creek area beginning in the 1960s ultimately protected the wheat farm where Mullins grew up, about 25 miles northeast of Perry.
“We all speak of the 1957 flood as kind of the high point,” said Mullins, 68. “That was before the watershed program was in place.
“In 1957, we did not fire up the combines. It completely destroyed all of the wheat crop. We were cut off because of the flood waters. The water got up to the floor level but did not get in the house. A few years later, there were two other floods that did get in the house.”
The floods also damaged farmland, causing erosion and washing away topsoil.
“As farmers, agricultural producers, we feel like federal money spent on watershed programs is some of the most effective and best use of federal money that we know of,” Mullins said.
Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller said that from the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using assistance from the service, part of the U.S. Agriculture Department, built more than 11,800 dams in 47 states, providing an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.
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Oklahoma has 2,107 watershed dams, which is more than any other state. Fourteen are to be upgraded to meet safety criteria and extend their lives for 100 years. The condition of 22 other dams is to be assessed.
Oklahoma dams to be upgraded: