The Success of the Flood Control Dam

A flooded field in Pontotoc County.

By Chris Cox

Last month Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Sarah Blaney wrote about the history and purpose of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Watershed and Small Upstream Flood Control Program. At the end of September South Central Oklahoma experienced historic flooding and saw the benefits of those upstream flood control dams first hand.

“These floods were devastating,” said Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) Executive Director Trey Lam. “The full extent of the damage to the land and the loss of property and livestock will not be fully known for some time. Thankfully, due to OCC’s partnership with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), the local conservation districts and the funding we received from the State of Oklahoma, we know the losses are not as catastrophic as they could have been because of the upstream flood control dams.”

With numerous areas in south central Oklahoma receiving anywhere from 10 to 17 inches of rainfall on September 21, USDA-NRCS estimates the small watershed flood control dams saved the state $19.6 million in damages. These are damages that would have occurred had the dams not been constructed. The hardest hit counties were Pontotoc and Coal, where several flood control dams experienced a greater than 1,000-year event.

“As a rancher, business owner and resident of Pontotoc County, I saw the devastation caused by the flooding,” said OCC Area V Commissioner Bill Clark. “I also know that without the upstream flood control dams and the partnership between OCC and USDA-NRCS to maintain those structures, the damage could have been much worse. These structures not only help protect lives and property, but they help protect the soils. If a fence gets washed away, that can be replaced fairly quickly. If our soil erodes and washes away, that could take decades to replace. I am thankful Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall was able to visit with me and tour some of the flooded sites so he could get a first-hand look of how these flood control dams can mitigate some of the potential damage.”

“Upstream flood control continues to be a priority for Oklahoma,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Last session, the Legislature appropriated the maximum amount toward federal matching dollars for rehabilitation of flood control facilities in Oklahoma. The weather events of last month are confirmation that upstream flood control needs to remain a priority for Oklahoma and that dollars invested toward this mission will result in a significant return on investment into the distant future. We will continue to work with our federal delegation to ensure these vital infrastructures are protected.”

Read more in the November issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.