“This investment will protect people and ensure that these critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations,” he said. “Homes, businesses, and agriculture are depending on responsible management of the dams and overall watersheds, and NRCS, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and conservation districts are continuing to provide that support to these communities.”
He said this appears to be a rare issue where Republicans and Democrats are in agreement.
“Investment in infrastructure that protects other infrastructure; it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, collaboratively we all see the value of this,” he said. “It’s a wise use of taxpayer dollars.”
In selecting the projects for funding, officials took into consideration the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure were to occur.
The 2014 Farm Bill increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21 fold.
U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, said many of the dams are aging and need to be improved. The goal is to rehabilitate them to ensure they can continue to protect people for another 50 years.
“You look at these structures across the country and some date back to the ’40s,” he said. “There are places around Dallas and Oklahoma where these structures are above major population points, Elk City, for instance.
“What we realized at the 50-year mark on their lives, either we had to find a way to extend their lives or we would have to go back and take out the dam, and that would end the safety.”
Lucas said part of the original impetus to build better flood control structures in Oklahoma was the Hammon flood of April 3, 1934, which killed 17 people. The flood came after heavy rain fell in a time of long-term drought. Hammon is in western Oklahoma, about 15 miles north of Elk City.
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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: