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High Lake Levels Still A Concern

The rain may have stopped, but that doesn't mean flood worries are over for Green Country. Lakes and rivers are still at high levels and engineers must decide how to deal with all that water. The News On 6’s Heather Lewin reports about 70% of area dams are still holding back water at flood stage, but without any more rain falling out of the sky, at least in major amounts, engineers can finally step back, take a breath and make a new plan for the first time in a month.

"We were on 24-hour watch for over three weeks,” said hydraulic engineer Russell Holeman.

Holeman has got a lot of weight on his shoulders, hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of it, being held back by Oklahoma dams. Holeman runs the Army Corps bureau that was faced with preventing flooding during one of Green Country's wettest Junes on record.

"It would rain one day; we would look at rainfall estimates and how they fell. We would have a plan on how we're going to deal with that, and it would rain the next day,” Holeman said.

Oklahoma's manmade lakes were built to store water to prevent flooding on area rivers. The storage works with three levels. Most of the time engineers keep the water about midway through the conservation pool. The Corps says in this last storm event, it rained enough to fill the rest of that level and move all the way past the top of the flood pool.

"Normally, we get storms through and they only fill up one or two of our lakes, our reservoirs, but this event filled up almost all of them at the same time,” said Holeman.

Of 42 lakes, 40 were in flood stage. At the peak, engineers had so much to contain, it boggles the mind. Try to imagine one million football fields covered in 10 feet of water.

He says the retention system worked exactly how it’s supposed to. The flooding in Coffeyville and Miami couldn't have been prevented. Engineers say they did turn off the flow, but the heavy rainfall caused the river to overrun its banks anyway.

Now that that's stopped, they still have get lake levels lower to have room for fall rain.

"It's not a case where you can empty the lakes in a week. We are looking at anywhere from six to eight weeks to get rid of all this floodwater,” Holeman said.

Because of continuing high water levels, engineers say water safety is a big concern. Filled to the brim lakes are covering debris and underwater hazards like campsites which could be very dangerous for swimmers and boaters.

Rivers are expected to be full and fast-moving through August.

To find out the various lake levels across eastern Oklahoma, click here.

Watch the video: Flood Dangers Persist Despite Sunny Skies

Related stories:

6/27/2007 Constant Rain Slows Business At Area Lakes

7/3/2007 High Lake Levels Put A Damper On Holiday Celebrations

7/19/2007 Lake Businesses Hope For Summer Rush

7/21/2007 Green Country Lake Levels Still High
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