Apr. 8—Renovations planned for this summer at the Watonga Lake dam are a cautionary tale for rural Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation announced that the lake will be drained for a few months starting in early April while the dam is repaired. The pipes in the nearly 70-year-old earthen dam have been rusting and deteriorating for several years, and about five years ago, the pipes failed.
The dam has a lot of peers. Oklahoma was one of the most aggressive states in the 1950s and 1960s in developing watershed structures for rural land preservation, flood control and recreation. These watershed projects protect areas from flooding losses. But, many of those structures came with a designed life expectancy of about 50 years.
According to an article on okconser vation.org, 9 out of 10 Oklahomans are living within 20 miles of a flood control dam. Most of these dams are located on private lands in rural areas, and many people don't know they are there or how they affect their daily lives.
Overall, the state has 2,107 such flood control dams protecting homes, businesses, roads, bridges, as well as crops, farmland and ranch land. In 2020, 1,380 of those dams had passed their 50-year design life.
These dams can't be retired, but they can be remediated or rehabilitated. These dams can safely function as designed if they are properly maintained. Rehabilitation of these dams has to be a priority so they can continue to protect people's lives, property and natural resources for many more decades.