Oklahomans Face Flooding Risks With Proposed Budget Cuts

Thursday, March 10th 2011, 5:36 pm
By: News 9

Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma's aging flood control dams need repairs but, federal budget cuts could mean no federal dollars to fix them.

"If we don't have dollars to rehabilitate these structures, one of these days, one of these structures will break and somebody will die," said Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

An unsettling prediction Pope said will become reality. Nearly half of the state's 2,100 flood control dams will be beyond their design life within ten years. Since the federal government provides two dollars for every dollar the state spends on rehabilitation, Oklahoma relies heavily on this funding. Each rehab project runs $1 million, on average.

"Makes almost as much sense as telling the state 'Well, uh, we're going to get rid of the Army and just let your National Guard take care of everything.' That doesn't make sense," said Pope.

It makes even less sense when you think about how it appeared Congress supported this program, a year and a half ago.  The state received $16 million stimulus dollars to fix seven dams and build two new ones. Watch story about stimulus money for dams in 2009.

"I was quite pleased to see the crews come in and rehabilitating the dam and making sure we're safe and the kids are safe and the general public in the area is safe," said Jeff Limore, Dahlonegah Public Schools Superintendent back in 2009.

Right now, the U.S. House and Senate are trying to agree on a federal budget. The Senate's version eliminates all funding for the program and forces the current federal agency that's Oklahoma's partner, NRCS, to stop working with the state. The House has $20 million going toward the program, thanks to efforts by Congressman Frank Lucas.

Read the Senate's Budget

As for Oklahoma's Senators, Coburn declined to comment on this issue. Senator Inhofe released the following statement:

"The Republican-led House version of the Continuing Resolution reduces Obama-era bloated federal spending in the right way with $61 billion in cuts. Unfortunately, the Democrat Senate leadership has demonstrated the innate inability to respond to the will of the American people on cutting federal spending in any real way.

"The USDA watershed programs have been incredibly important to Oklahoma, especially with the state's extreme weather. The watershed rehabilitation program has been responsible for 321 watershed dams throughout the state, and the program works on a cost sharing basis with local communities. As a result, communities across Oklahoma have safe, effective flood control and a reliable water supply. Cutting these programs without regard for the impact that will have is irresponsible. I will continue to work closely with Congressman Frank Lucas, who has championed these programs, to make sure they are approached in an appropriate manner for both flood control and fiscal responsibility." - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)

Read the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's comments.