More than 2,000 upstream flood control dams protect Oklahomans during heavy storms, but more than half need a facelift to keep protecting surrounding cities.
Without dams, millions of dollars would be spent every year to clean up more flood waters after heavy storms.
A new dam is going in near Enid and is helping create jobs and will protect area communities for years to come.
By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
You probably don't even realize they're out there, more than 2,000 upstream flood control dams protecting Oklahomans during heavy storms. Half of them need rehabilitation over the next 10 years. The stimulus will only give a small number of them a facelift right now.
"We have identified in this state alone, just to meet dam safety requirements, $200 million in needs," said Robert Toole, the Director of the Conservation Programs Division for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
But, $16 million in stimulus dollars will rehabilitate seven aging dams and build two new ones.
One of the dams undergoing rehabilitation is in Adair County, near the city of Stilwell. It's also the water supply for 20,000 nearby residents.
"We definitely need all the help from the government we can get to help us bring people and give them safe, good, healthy living," said James Collins, Mayor of Stilwell.
The dam does not currently meet federal safety criteria. That's because people have built homes and a church in the breach zone. Crews will raise the height of the dam nearly four feet, extend the width of the dam and increase the size of the spillway so water drains off quicker. All of this will extend the life of the dam by another 100 years.
"I think it's an excellent use of tax dollars," said Robert Toole with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
One of the new dams is going in near Enid and will protect people who live in the town of Dover.
"The real importance is the protection that it provides to the citizens of Oklahoma. We've had these projects ready to begin for years and years but, we never had the funding available," said Trey Lam, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
Altogether, the flood control dams save the state nearly $75 million a year. That's money that would normally go toward cleaning up after a flood. For every dollar spent on the dams, the state saves you two tax dollars that would've gone to flood repairs.
"It's kind of pay me now or pay me later, we can spend the dollars on this project now or every year we can spend that much and maybe 10 times more putting things back the way they were," said Lam.
Even though the stimulus money is a plus, conservation experts admit they're concerned. There are so many dams that need work, and not enough money to do it.
"Yes, it's going to help us tremendously, but, there's a significant need out there yet," said Toole.
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