National Guard Actively Monitoring Levee District 12 In Sand Springs
Thousands of people in Sand Springs and west Tulsa are being urged to leave their homes with concerns unprecedented water pressure might cause the Tulsa County levee system to breach.
The Army Corps of Engineers says its large water release at Keystone Dam is holding strong at more than 250,000 cubic feet of water per second.
The Corps says it will stay at that level through at least Wednesday and that is putting a historic amount of pressure on the levee system.
County leaders have been warning about this for years, which is why they've campaigned so hard for funding to bring the levees up to date.
"It wasn't a matter of if, it was always just a matter of when. This is our 'when.' We're experiencing our 'when' right now," said Tulsa County Levee Commissioner Todd Kilpatrick.
The Oklahoma Army National Guard has stepped in to help keep watch over Levee District 12.
100 soldiers are working around the clock, filling sand bags, keeping people off the levees and watching the water for large swirls.
"When those swirls start happening, that means the ground is breaking loose, the levee might be loosing it's integrity," said Sgt. J.C. Newberry.
Kilpatrick says there is about an 8 foot wall of water on the south side of the levee.
"We're holding steady right now, but it is a dangerous situation," Kilpatrick said.
By Wednesday the levee will have held the heavy load of water for more than 140 hours, county leaders say. In its 70-year existence, the levee network has never experienced that much pressure for such an extended period.
"All that water on the levees saturates it, then the flow will basically erode it," said Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick has worked as the county's levee commissioner for about 7 years and says there is a legitimate concern the aging levee could break.
"It'll erode from the bottom and that levee will just collapse and with that collapse, the water will come rushing in," said Kilpatrick. "I've been worried ever since I got this job because I know the consequences behind it and if we lose one life, we all lose."
Kilpatrick says the levee is seeping water because it's old and porous. His team, along with the soldiers and Corps of Engineers, are controlling that with water pumps and sandbag dikes.
The soldiers have filled thousands of sand bags that they're ready to deploy if the worst happens.
"In that situation, I believe we definitely are prepared," said Newberry. "That's what we train for. We stand ready, any time, any point."
County leaders say preparation is key. They're urging those who live behind the levee to the north to find somewhere else to stay until the water goes down.
It's impacting miles of residents, from River City Park to New Block Park from the Arkansas River to Highway 412.
If the levees were to fail, county leaders says people would have very little time to leave. They say anyone who doesn't want to evacuate should pack a bag with all of their essentials and important documents and be ready to leave a moment's notice.