They're the state's first line of defense against flooding; now Oklahoma conservationists say hundreds of dams could be on their last leg. Water watchers say last week's rain was a perfect example. The USDA says the five-inches of rain that fell on Green Country could have caused $31 million in damage. Oklahoma would be ripe for flooding if there weren't 2,000 dams, strategically placed around the state. But, The News On 6â€™s Joshua Brakhage reports those dams are past their expiration date.
Oklahomans had almost gotten used to dangerously low lake levels and the gates at Keystone Dam being locked up tight. Now, millions of gallons of water is draining into the Arkansas River. But conservationists say Oklahoma's primary protectors are earthen dams, like one near the Wal-Mart distribution center outside Ramona.
"Should one of these break there could be some human loss, certainly economic loss,â€ said Scotty Herriman, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
Herriman says there are 2,000 dams like the one in Ramona spread across the state. They collect rainwater and release it slowly, without flooding fields and towns. Fifty years ago, the state was building one a week, but they were only meant to last 50 years. Now many are in desperate need of repair.
"Obviously some of them are worse than others. Some of them will run 75, 80 years in a grass lined area and not present a problem, but there are some that are right above cities," Herriman said.
There's even one in the Tulsa city limits.
Herriman says the flooding after last week's rains would be unimaginable without the dams. The federal government has set aside $13 million to repair the dams. Oklahoma conservationists want the state legislature to chip in half that amount.
"We're looking at $6.5 million is what we need to get on the ground now to put us up around $19 million to start the project of rehabbing these dams across the state," said Herriman.
Herriman is hopeful the money will come. The question is will it come soon enough to prevent potential flooding in the future.
To put things in perspective, conservationists want about $20 million for the repairs. The Department of Agriculture estimates without the dams, flood damage would cost the state $70 million a year. So they're saying you really do get a return on your investment.
Watch the video: Oklahoma Dams Keep Flood Waters At Bay, But For How Long