Lessons Learned In 1986 Flood Keep Tulsa Above Water

Thursday, October 6th 2011, 9:30 pm

By: News On 6

Travis Meyer, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Flooding may be far from our minds in this drought, but 25 years ago parts of the Tulsa metro area were inundated with water from the Arkansas River.

In 1986, the remnants of Hurricane Paine moved into Oklahoma where they dumped nearly 2 feet of water upstream along the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers.

Ron Flanagan is a planning consultant who has been the sparkplug of Tulsa's floodplain management program since 1974. He says the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to open Keystone Dam in 1986 in order to save it.

"We came to the realization that these levees and dams were not fool-proof and that they give people a false sense of security, and it made us re-evaluate our whole approach along the Arkansas River," Flanagan said.

More than 1,800 structures were flooded, causing an estimated $63.5 million in damage in Tulsa County.

"These areas right along Riverside Drive were impacted, and on further down, 76th St. Apartments and stuff down there on Riverside Drive and then also Bixby and Jenks were also impacted," Flanagan said.

The river also swamped parts of West Tulsa to the rooftops in an area known as Garden City.

At the height of the 1986 flood, 300,000 cubic feet per second of water swept through Tulsa.

Since the floods of the 1980s, Tulsa has spent $500 million to protect the city from future flooding.

Despite the recent drought, the city of Tulsa plans to spend another $500 million to get the remaining 12,000 homes in Tulsa out of floodplains.

"Tulsa went above and beyond all the minimum standards," Flanagan said.

Ron says the city of Tulsa is now a model community for flood management.  Part of the reason: the city takes future urbanization into account.

But we shouldn't forget the 1986 flood because new problems now exist.

"That was just another wake-up call to remind us that we can't be complacent. Our problem now is that we haven't had a flood since 1986, and we are, as a community, getting very complacent again, and we are doing some very risky things that are coming back to haunt us," Flanagan said.

Risky things like new development dangerously close to the river. Despite Tulsa's outstanding flood management infrastructure, the experts say we shouldn't let our guard down.



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