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A state bond sale raised dollars the Oklahoma Conservation Commission will use to match other dollars to rehabilitate dams

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The dam that impounds the water of the lake at Perry is among those that will be rehabilitated by contractors working for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to extend its usable life. [PROVIDED]
The dam that impounds the water of the lake at Perry is among those that will be rehabilitated by contractors working for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to extend its usable life. [PROVIDED]

About $5.1 million raised through a recent bond sale will be used along with federal and previously appropriated state dollars to strengthen four dams that were built to protect Oklahomans in rural and urban areas.

Earlier this month, the bonds were sold on behalf of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission by the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority.

The sale exemplifies the commission’s mandate to serve Oklahomans in different ways, said Trey Lam, its executive director.

“The main benefit is to protect the lives of Oklahomans who live below these dams,” Lam said. “These dams are high-hazard dams, not because there’s anything wrong with them, but just because people live below them.

“Also, in the cases of dams at Perry, Meeker and Wilburton, these are multi-purpose dams that provide either primary or secondary water supplies to communities across Oklahoma.”

Another dam on the rehab list, officials said, is one in Beckham County that protects residents in Elk City, said Tammy Sawatzky, the director of the commission’s conservation programs division.

Sawatzky said the dam is one of 35 that built in Washita, Beckham and Kiowa counties to control flooding issues in the Upper Elk Creek Watershed.

Between 1940 and 1960, before the dams were built, the watershed often severely flooded, with 33 major floods covering more than 50% of the floodplain that regularly destroyed roads, bridges, crops, fences and caused severe erosion, officials said.

In 1964, several of the state’s conservation districts covering that area, along with Elk City and Sentinel, worked with state conservation commission and federal officials to develop the system of dams that is in use today.

Officials said the 35 dams, including the one that will be rehabilitated as part of this current round of work, were built between 1968-1990.

Work on the dam protecting Elk City “will increase the flood storage, the flood protection downstream and it will reduce the sediment that goes downstream,” she said.

Sawatzky stressed that the dams, while old, remain safe and will continue to be into the future after rehabilitations are complete.

“These dams were designed and built for a 50-year life and, with rehabilitation, it will extend it to a 100-year life,” she said.

The projects, all told, involve more than $41 million, with about 65 percent of that provided by the federal government as part of a farm bill Congress approved in 2014.

Oklahoma’s Legislature appropriated $4 million to contribute toward that share, but because the state’s budget was tight, officials decided a bond issue ultimately was needed.

State officials said the sale also saved Oklahoma taxpayers interest payments on previously existing debt the conservation commission was carrying by combining that debt with the dollars raised in this month’s sale.

Officials estimated the combination will save taxpayers just more than a half-million dollars through a reduced interest rate the commission was able to obtain.

The funds are scheduled to be available May 9, officials said.

Bryan Painter

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