Officials: More Funding Needed To Ensure Safer Dams In OK

Wednesday, February 15th 2017, 6:22 pm
By: Dana Hertneky

Oklahoma dams aren’t being maintained or rehabilitated like they should because of state budget cuts. That’s the word from the State Conservation Commission executive director.  

One big concern is high hazard dams that provide protection to life and property. 

Back in 2014, national, state and local officials stood on the Peery Lake Dam to announce $26 million in federal funding to upgrade 36 high hazard dams in Oklahoma. The federal government has since pledged another $10 million. 

“They’re not structurally unsound,” said Trey Lam the Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “But they were built with a low safety standard.”

Meaning when the dams were built, there weren't lives, homes, businesses and critical infrastructure at risk if they were to fail.

For example, the dam at Perry Lake provides flood protection to 541 people who live and work downstream. 

If the Perry dam were to break, seven county roads, one state highway and Interstate 35 could all go as would Fernando Pacheco's homestead and that of hundreds of his neighbors. 

“Wipe out our seven acres or so,” said Pacheco.

He said he would likely have to move if the dam were to break.

The federal money would be used to raise the dams to better protect the people downstream, but two years later, those upgrades to the dams have not happened because in order to access the federal funds, the state has to come up with $9 million on its own. Right now, the Conservation Commission doesn't even have enough money to maintain the state's dams let alone upgrade. 

“I don’t think it’s a risk that people should worry about or stay up or be scared about, but I think it’s something like changing the oil in your car or taking care of your home. If you don’t take care of it sometime in the future you’re going to pay for it,” said Lam.

Lam is concerned with the new administration, the federal government may pull their funding but he thinks if they can just get $3 million from the state that would be enough to just hold onto the federal funding.