Flood control investments must be a state priority

For more than 60 years, Oklahoman’s have realized the benefits of our investment in flood control infrastructure. Our 2,107 flood control dams, built by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture since the 1950s, are an important investment in building resilience to extreme weather events that are all too familiar to Oklahomans.

While up to 22 inches of rain fell in some parts of the state this May, flood-control dams prevented an estimated $96 million in damage to land and property statewide. Before this system of upstream dams was in place, walls of water would rage down streams washing away farmland and destroying communities large and small. The water still came this time, but damages were greatly reduced. We realized these benefits thanks to an investment in dam maintenance and the efforts of the local conservation districts that keep these dams operating properly. Most citizens of our state may not realize the vast map of these dams and man-made retaining ponds across the state even exist.

On a brief aerial tour of Central Oklahoma this week the view showed measures from saving Elk City housing additions and I-40 infrastructure to areas between El Reno and Okarche that held surplus water and saved Highway 81 and the Northwest Expressway sure destruction. These are two examples of major thoroughfares that would have been absolutely decimated without conservation structures.

The earthen dams stood strong, but many took a beating during the storms. They will require repairs to remain safe and ready for the next round of extreme weather, whenever it may come. As the water recedes, teams are in the field assessing the conditions of each dam and developing plans for repairing damages.

Oklahomans who came before us invested wisely in upstream flood control. It is proven that these investments have saved lives, property, roads and bridges and have improved the quality of water downstream. At the same time, these structures have provided water for future needs, as well as recreation. These benefits have been recognized in every county of the state, both rural and urban, and at the same time have contributed to the continued economic growth of our state. It is important that critical investments be made for future protection and ongoing benefits. Resilient people, resilient land – please join me in giving thanks and investing in our state’s future.

NOTE: State Rep. Leslie Osborn serves as chair of the House A&B Natural Resources & Regulatory Services Subcommittee. 

State Sen. Ron Justice serves as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources.