Aging small dams still have big impact in period of extreme weather

Aging small dams still have big impact in period of extreme weather

Extreme rains across Oklahoma in the past year have underscored the value of small watershed dams and the urgency of maintaining them, according to people who have worked for decades to keep the dams functional.

In May alone, the dams, some of which date back 70 years, prevented $33 million in damages, said Larry Caldwell, an engineer who worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

The dams yield nearly $100 million a year in benefits, mostly from preventing property damage, Caldwell said.

Watershed Year for Conservation in Oklahoma

Watershed Year for Conservation in Oklahoma

In the history of Conservation work in Oklahoma there have been several Watershed moments – a turning point – that changed the future of our state for the better.

These include the Dust Bowl, resulting in the formation of Conservation Districts along with Federal and State agencies.

Another was the devastating flooding during the first half of the 1900s that inspired Public Law 534 and 566. Under these, came the construction in Oklahoma of the 2,107 flood control dams.

An additional example is the Clean Water Act which provided the opportunity to tie land conservation to water quality improvement eventually making Oklahoma the national leader in stream water cleanup.

It is also very possible we are living in a watershed moment, right now.

Soil health educator excited about rodeo’s “Cowboy Christmas”

Soil health educator excited about rodeo’s “Cowboy Christmas”

Blane Stacy of Blanchard is a full-time soil health educator with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC). Stacy is also part-time saddle bronc rider who has qualified three times for the International Finals Rodeo (IFR).

Born one day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 1987, Stacy craves that Fourth of July run that rodeo diehards refer to as “Cowboy Christmas” where the intent is to collect a lot more checks than dirt in a short amount of time. There are so many rodeos in this span.

Sixth-generation rancher Clay Forst to serve as Area IV Commissioner of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission

Sixth-generation rancher Clay Forst to serve as Area IV Commissioner of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission

Clay Forst, who serves on the Jefferson County Conservation District board, will participate as a Commissioner in his first Oklahoma Conservation Commission meeting on July 1 and will represent the Area IV Conservation Districts of: Comanche, Cotton, Custer, Deer Creek, Grady, Greer, Harmon, Jackson, Jefferson, Kiowa, North Caddo, North Fork of Red River, South Caddo, Stephens, Tillman, Upper Washita, Washita and West Caddo.

NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program Helps Rural Communities Following Flood

NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program Helps Rural Communities Following Flood

Sadly and understandably there is much talk about what has happened as a result of recent disasters in Oklahoma, such as flooding and tornadoes. Recovery efforts are underway in many areas.

However, stop and think about what could happen that poses a threat. That’s where the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program can possibly come into play.

The EWP allows the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to establish non-traditional partnerships with sponsors to address serious impacts resulting from natural disasters. The program requires NRCS to work quickly with local sponsors to protect public infrastructure and prevent environmental hazards. All projects must demonstrate that they reduce threats to life and property. Projects must be economically, environmentally, and socially sound, while meeting acceptable engineering standards.

Smithsonian's "Water/Ways" traveling exhibition comes to Oklahoma

Smithsonian's "Water/Ways" traveling exhibition comes to Oklahoma

The traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, “Water/Ways,” examines water as an environmental necessity and an important cultural element. The Oklahoma Blue Thumb Program, a water quality education program of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's Water Quality Division, will be on hand as this exhibition makes its way through Oklahoma beginning this month and continuing into April 2020. 

President Donald Trump declared a disaster in Oklahoma

Federal assistance available to those affected by severe storms, tornadoes and floods in Tulsa, Muskogee and Wagoner counties

Excerpt from the Tulsa World.
By Kelsy Schlotthauer | Tulsa World | Jun 3, 2019

Assistance is available in many forms to individuals and business owners affected by the storms beginning May 7, including grants for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the declaration Sunday, thanking Trump for his support and “quick action.”

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration and local emergency managers to schedule damage assessments in other affected counties as early as this week, the release states. Teams will survey damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and utilities.

Funding is available statewide on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures, and to state, tribal and local governments and some private nonprofit organizations in Tulsa, Muskogee and Wagoner counties for debris removal and emergency protective measures, including overtime pay for first responders.

Emergency protective measures limited to direct federal assistance will also be provided to Haskell, Kay, LeFlore, Noble, Osage, Pawnee and Sequoyah counties.

SBA loans available for recovery, improvement projectsBusinesses and private nonprofit organizations of any size can borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery, equipment, inventory and other business assets, according to a U.S. Small Business Administration news release.

SBA also offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs for small businesses, agricultural cooperatives, businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private nonprofit organizations. Economic injury assistance is available to businesses regardless of property damage, the release states.

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace real estate, and homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace personal property.

Business owners and homeowners can also obtain additional funds to help with the cost of improvement projects to prevent the same type of disaster damage from occurring in the future.

Interest rates can be as low as 4% for businesses, 2.75% for private nonprofit organizations and 1.938% for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years, according to the release.

Those wishing to be considered for all forms of disaster assistance must first contact FEMA at disasterassistance.gov. When Federal-State Disaster Recovery Centers open throughout the affected areas, SBA will provide one-on-one assistance to disaster loan applicants.

Additional information and details on the location of disaster recovery centers is available by calling the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955.

Apply for assistance

Residents and business owners who suffered losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362), or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.

The toll-free numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. 

Oklahoma's State and Federal Leaders Show Support of Flood Control Dams

Oklahoma's State and Federal Leaders Show Support of Flood Control Dams

Thinking ahead is important, but acting head is often critical.

From the U.S. Capitol to the state Capitol, Oklahoma leaders acted in support of Oklahoma flood control dams well before the recent historic rains.

Last week, Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law the general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY'20). The FY2020 Budget includes $1.5 million for rural dam improvement. This will go toward the operation and maintenance of flood control dams.

In April, the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (the “Authority”) sold $5.116 million in bonds on behalf of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) for the rehabilitation of some flood control structures in the state. The Oklahoma Legislature came up with the bond proposal of $5.116 million. Governor Stitt and Secretary John Budd signed the bond purchase agreement on April 16, 2019.

Conservation Districts Help with Flood Control In Oklahoma, Rep. Grego Praises State's Watershed Structures

  Conservation Districts Help with Flood Control In Oklahoma, Rep. Grego Praises State's Watershed Structures

State Rep. Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, a former member of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, praises the success of the 2,107 watershed structures throughout Oklahoma.

“This past week, many areas of Oklahoma have received record rainfall,” Grego said. “While widespread flooding is happening, we must not lose sight of how much flooding is being prevented by our watershed structures.”

Oklahoma Watershed Dams Historically Significant and Critical to the Future

Oklahoma Watershed Dams Historically Significant and Critical to the Future

There's a chance that almost 1,400 of Oklahoma's watershed dams will have beaten Larry Caldwell to retirement by next year.

Overall, the State has 2,107 such flood control dams protecting homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, as well as crops, farmland, and ranch land. The "however" to this is that by 2020, 1,380 dams will have passed their 50-year design life.

The reality is they can’t retire, they just need some remediation.