Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive October 2009 Show 0943 Flood Control

Flood Control

Often referred to as silent sentinals, many of Oklahoma's earthen dams have been in place for more than half a century, well past their intended lifespan. Which is why work is underway to repair these agend structures so they canstill stand guard against flooding.
Flood Control

Flood control

Show Dates

Show 0943: Flood Control

Air date: October 25, 2009



Rob:  Few realize that during the darkest days of the dust bowl, parts of Oklahoma were devastated by flood waters.  An ironic twist of fate that, in great part, led to the construction of low water flood control dams across the state and the nation.  Often referred to as silent sentinels, many of these earthen dams have been in place for more than a half-a-century, well past their intended lifespan, which is why work is underway to repair these aged structures, so they can still stand guard against Mother Nature’s fury.  Here’s our Betiel Michaels.

Betiel:  There generally isn’t much fanfare reserved for earthen dams, so this celebration outside Ochelata in northeastern Oklahoma is unique.  But we’ll get back to that.  Often referred to as silent sentinels, upstream dams do their job without many of us taking much notice of the raised mounds and the lakes they create.  George Stunkard is chairman of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

George Stunkard:  Silent sentinel, and that’s a good term for them, because most of the general public don’t know they exist.  They’re off the beaten path.  They’re on private land, but they do their job daily.

Betiel:  Their job, to trap and store water after heavy rainstorms, effectively reducing flooding downstream.

Stunkard:  When we have these tremendous rainfall events that would normally cause flooding, these hold the water back release it at a slow rate so the tributaries and channels can handle the flow.

Betiel:  And handle the flow they have, safeguarding residents from the kind of catastrophic flooding that was once commonplace for the state more than 50 years ago.  Resident Wayne Montgomery recalls childhood memories from that time.

Wayne Montgomery:  And it’s awful bad, and then this was terrible because there wasn’t no access in and out of homes of small communities.  And a lot of road damage for rural people to get to schools, mailbox and everything.

Betiel:  Experiences, like those, spurred state officials to begin building flood control dams in the 1950s, becoming the first in the nation; Clay Pope with the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

Clay Pope:  Well when you think about Oklahoma, this history that Oklahoma had before the construction of these flood control dams throughout the state, the amount of flooding and the damage that was caused, in fact it’s been estimated by the Agricultural Research Service and USDA that these dams save somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy to seventy-five million dollars a year in flood damage that doesn’t happen because they are there.

Betiel:  And the silent sentinels have been working ever since.

Pope:  They are extremely important.  They do yeoman’s work every year.  They provide that protection that we need for our roads and bridges, for our crops, for homes, for people’s lives.

Betiel:  But any protection they offer comes with an expiration date of 50 years; and for many dams across the state, that time has come.  Mike Thralls heads the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

Mike Thralls:  Initially when these dams were built, they were designed to last about 50 years.  They do silt in.  There’s been development below these things, raised their hazard classification.

Betiel:  Which brings us back to the celebration where people gathered in ceremony by dam number 6 to commemorate yet another first for the state.

Thralls:  All six of the dams that are in this watershed have been rehabilitated; and that will extend their effective usefulness for another hundred years.

Betiel:  Thralls says rehabbing upstream dams like the six that makeup the double creek watershed project is a necessity for the state.

Thralls:  So to protect the people downstream, they did need rehabilitation; at the same time we extended their life for another hundred years, so that’s a significant event.

Betiel:  So significant that a mixture of state and federal dollars will be used to pay for the cost of upgrading the state’s 2100 dams, spending that state senator, John Ford, agrees with.

John Ford:  When you can talk firsthand to some of the property owners whose property crops have been saved, these are so important to Oklahoma.  And it’s so important to the local areas that I think it’s important that we let the other legislators know that, you know, every dollar we spend is someone’s tax dollars, it’s our responsibility to spend those wisely.  But when you see the results of some of the things we’re doing here, I think that they can see these are good uses of the tax dollars, and I think we can continue to get the support.

Betiel:  Support that’s really an investment in the next generation.

Rob:  Now if you’re interested in hearing what other state leaders think about these silent sentinels, just go to our web site at and click on this week’s value added.