You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Critical moment shows reason for Corps' flood control decisions. 'How much worse would that have been?'

One day during Oklahoma’s ongoing floods stands out as the most stressful moment for the man who has been the area’s public face for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

David Williams, chief of the Tulsa District’s Hydrology and Hydraulics Engineering Section, said that day also offers one example of why he believes the Corps’ operational plan worked as it should and that the weeks-long event has been “managed about as well as it could be managed.”

“It was that Tuesday,” Williams said, “The short-term weather forecasts were not promising.”

May 27, the day before “that Tuesday,” the water elevation in Keystone Reservoir tickled the upper capacity of the dam at 757 feet above sea level.

About 2.7 times the combined flow of Niagara Falls rushed through the dam, a rate of roughly 275,000 cubic feet per second.

But the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers raged upstream and pushed an even higher combined flow into the lake. The level was rising, and the reservoir was almost out of space.

With heavy rainstorms forecast and 2-to-3 inch accumulations expected that Tuesday, every armchair hydrologist from Ralston to Vian expected Williams to announce a historic release on par or higher than the record 307,000 cfs that covered Tulsa in 1986. Niagara Falls times three, maybe more.

But Williams stuck to the Army Corps playbook. He said the release would remain at 275,000.

“Just give me two more days,” Williams said informally after that May 27 news conference.

A week later Williams calmly emphasized it was a stressful 24 hours but not a white-knuckle ride.

“We were always in control,” he said. “But we had exhausted the capacity of the (reservoir), and if it rained upstream from the dam, the release would have to be adjusted to meet the inflow.”

The operational plan has the Corps making decisions “based on what is on the ground,” Williams said.

“That’s not been a real popular phrase recently,” he said, “but this (example) illustrates exactly why we manage that way.”

The rain did not fall upstream from the dam that Tuesday. Instead, those 2 to 3 inches hit areas downstream. South Tulsa, Jenks and Bixby saw severe flash floods.

“Hypothetically, if in our eagerness to pre-release based on that weather forecast we had gone to 300,000 (cfs) before it rained, how much worse would that have been downstream?” he said.

Release through the reservoir’s gates never surpassed the 275,000 cfs setting, though gauge readings fluctuated higher and lower, and one hourly reading, at 3 p.m. May 29, shows a peak of 277,252 cfs.

A few hours later inflow to the lake decreased and the Corps started dialing back on Keystone’s releases.

Williams got his two days, and Tulsa dodged a big, wet bullet.

“Most people don’t fully appreciate why you don’t draw down the lake, even with what seems like perfect forecast information,” he said. “You don’t realize you’re in an historic flood until you’re into it, and you don’t realize it’s a drought until you’re into a drought. What if you draw it down and six months from now it still hasn’t rained? Those are always the challenges you face, and that’s why we have an operational plan.”

Plans do evolve, however. An “after-action report” will examine the chronology of this event, the steps taken and what went well and what didn’t.

“We’ll identify areas for improvement,” he said. “One of the outcomes of the 1986 flood was to make a big investment in upstream gauging. That improved our ability to forecast inflow, and that really paid off during this flood.”

Comments on social media and in public meetings have laid blame on the Corps for allowing Keystone Lake to remain elevated in the weeks before the big rains despite long-range forecasts and May being a notorious month for floods.

The Corps simply did not leave enough capacity to handle the extra water, and if they had drawn down the lake ahead of time, trouble could have been avoided, the theory goes.

Williams explained some math, geometry and legal hurdles that make that idea moot, however.

The reservoir is much narrower at lower elevations, so a few feet of water elevation at that point make little difference compared to levels reached during a huge flood, he said.

Besides, the Corps is not authorized to draw the lake down below its “normal” level, which is 723 feet above sea level.

“This business about a draw-down,” he said. “There is just not enough additional volume there.”

Volume of the reservoir is measured in acre-feet (imagine a one-acre property covered with 1 foot of water).

The maximum flood-control volume for Keystone, the water above that “normal” 723 feet up to the operational top of the flood gates at 757 feet, is about 1.8 million acre-feet, Williams said.

“It’s a multi-use reservoir, but its primary purpose is flood control,” Williams said. “That’s why the vast majority of the volume is dedicated to flood control.”

The other purpose for the lake, as initially designed by the Corps and approved by Congress in 1949 under the Flood Control Act, is power generation and water supply. The lake, at elevations from 723 feet down to 706 feet, is the “conservation pool,” sometimes called the “power pool.” The volume of that pool is roughly 550,000 acre-feet, Williams said.

The Tulsa District reports that Congress assigned roughly 87 percent of that volume to Southwestern Power Administration (a federal agency). Power Supply Company purchased another 11.5 percent, and 13 percent is dedicated to water supply agreements. The remaining 1.5 percent could still be sold.

Water below the 706-foot level is labeled “inactive pool” and is essentially 200,000 acre-feet of water to collect sedimentation.

The conservation pool is used at the direction of those who own it, Williams said. The Corps tries to maintain normal level for both energy storage purposes and for its role in conservation, outdoor recreation and tourism, he said.

Congress would have to propose lowering the normal lake level seasonally or permanently, he said. But it would have little impact on flood operations either way, he said.

“Several feet at that level really wouldn’t make a difference in flood control with the kind of event we just experienced,” he said. “Consider the surcharge (the top 3 feet available for flood control) is 300,000 acre-feet and compare that to the entire conservation pool (the lower 17 feet), which is only 550,000 acre-feet.”

To drive home the point, Williams offered “a fun fact.”

In 30 days, from May 4 to June 4, roughly 5 million acre-feet of water passed through Keystone Dam. Imagine water filling an acre lot, about 209 feet by 209 feet, stretching up into the sky 950 miles. That's the distance from Tulsa to Winnipeg, Canada.

It’s also an amount roughly equal to twice the full capacity, top of the gates to silty bottom, of the Keystone Reservoir.

“The project did what it was supposed to do: to mitigate impacts,” Williams said. “There were downstream impacts, and there was a large release for an extended period, but imagine what it would have been like if the dams were not there.”

Clarification: A comparison illustrating 5 million acre-feet has been edited.

D-Day at 75: Nations honor aging veterans, fallen comrades

OMAHA BEACH, France — Standing on the windswept beaches and bluffs of Normandy, a dwindling number of aging veterans of history’s greatest air and sea invasion received the thanks and praise of a world transformed by their sacrifice.

The mission now, they said, was to honor the dead and keep their memory alive, 75 years after the D-Day operation that portended the end of World War II.

“We know we don’t have much time left, so I tell my story so people know it was because of that generation, because of those guys in this cemetery,” said 99-year-old Steve Melnikoff of Maryland, standing at Colleville-Sur-Mer, where thousands of Americans are buried.

“All these generals with all this brass that don’t mean nothing,” he said. “These guys in the cemetery, they are the heroes.”

Thursday’s anniversary was marked with eloquent speeches, profound silences — and passionate pleas for an end to bloodshed.

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump praised the soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in the invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord, saying it was the turning point that ended Nazi tyranny and ensured peace for Europe.

“You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of our republic, and we thank you from the bottom of our heart,” Trump said of the warriors who took part in what he called the ultimate fight of good against evil in World War II.

“They battled not for control and domination, but for liberty, democracy and self-rule,” Trump said in a speech at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of five landing beaches.

Macron saluted the courage, generosity and strength of spirit that made them press on “to help men and women they didn’t know, to liberate a land most hadn’t seen before, for no other cause but freedom, democracy.”

He expressed France’s debt to the United States for freeing his country from the Nazis. Macron awarded five American veterans with the Chevalier of Legion of Honor, France’s highest award.

“We know what we owe to you, veterans, our freedom,” he said, switching from French to English. “On behalf of my nation I just want to say ‘thank you.’”

About 160,000 troops were took part in D-Day, and many more fought in the ensuing Battle of Normandy. Of those 73,000 were from the United States, while 83,000 were from Britain and Canada. Troops started landing overnight from the air, then were joined by a massive force by sea on the beaches of Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you,” Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had said in his order of the day. “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory.”

On Wednesday, a commemoration was held in Portsmouth, England, the main embarkation point for the transport boats. Then the dignitaries came to the bluffs and beaches of Normandy, where veterans recalled what they saw 75 years ago.

“The water was full of dead men, the beach had burning landing craft,” said Jim Radford, 90, a British D-Day veteran from Hull, describing the scene near Gold Beach, where British landed.

He was there again to watch the unveiling of a statue at Gold Beach, where a memorial to British fighters is to be erected.

At dawn Thursday, hundreds of civilians and military alike from around the world gathered on Omaha Beach.

Dick Jansen, 60, from the Netherlands, drank Canadian whisky from an enamel cup on the water’s edge. Others scattered carnations into the waves. Randall Atanay, the son of a medic who tended to the dying and wounded, waded barefoot into the water, bonding with his dad, who has since died.

Up to 12,000 people attended the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, with U.S. veterans, their numbers fast diminishing as years pass, the guests of honor.

A 21-gun salute thundered into the waters below the cemetery, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, and across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David. The final resting places of more than 9,380 of the fallen stretched out before the guests.

Britain’s Prince Charles, his wife, Camilla, and Prime Minister Theresa May attended a remembrance service at the medieval cathedral in Bayeux, the first Normandy town liberated by Allied troops after D-Day.

Gratitude was a powerful common theme.

Macron thanked soldiers “so that France could become free again” at the Gold Beach ceremony with May and uniformed veterans laid the cornerstone of the memorial that will record the names of thousands of troops under British command who died in Normandy.

“If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come, in France, in Britain, in Europe and the world, that day was the 6th of June, 1944,” May said.

As the sun rose that morning, not one of the thousands of men arriving in Normandy “knew whether they would still be alive when the sun set once again,” she said.

Passing on memories is especially urgent, with hundreds of World War II veterans now dying every day.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed those who “took a gamble the world had never seen before.”

Speaking at Juno Beach where 14,000 Canadians came ashore, Trudeau lauded the resulting world order including the United Nations and NATO that have helped preserve peace.

But postwar tensions were evident. Not invited to the remembrance was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been present for the 70th commemoration of D-Day.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a “gift of history” that she was able to participate in the ceremony on Britain’s southern coast. Some 22,000 German soldiers are among those buried around Normandy.

The D-Day invasion was a defining moment of military strategy complicated by unpredictable weather and human chaos in which soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other Allied nations applied relentless bravery to carve out a beachhead on ground that Nazi Germany had occupied for four years.

The Battle of Normandy hastened Germany’s defeat less than a year later.

Still, that single day cost the lives of 4,414 Allied troops, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were injured. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.

From there, Allied troops would advance, take Paris in late summer and race with the Soviet Red Army to control as much German territory as possible by the time Adolf Hitler died in his Berlin bunker and Germany surrendered in May 1945.

The Soviet Union also fought valiantly against the Nazis — and lost more people than any other nation in World War II — but those final battles would divide Europe for decades between the West and the Soviet-controlled East, the face-off line of the Cold War.

“War is the most idiotic thing that man ever created,” said Charles Levesque, 93, who served in the Pacific theater. “Our enemies now are our friends, and our friends are our enemies. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Governor orders state entities not to use lobbyists without permission

OKLAHOMA CITY — State entities paid outside lobbyists nearly $1.5 million in fiscal year 2019, according to information released by Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office.

Stitt hopes to put a stop to such spending.

The governor in January issued an executive order saying that for the duration of the fiscal year, no more lobbyist contracts could be issued without the permission of cabinet secretaries.

In the order, Stitt said he didn’t believe spending on lobbyists was a proper use of taxpayers’ money.

But some agency heads and lobbyists believe hiring outside lobbyists saves the state dollars.

They say it is cheaper to pay a lobbyist than to hire a person internally to meet with lawmakers. Agencies don’t have to pay benefits for the lobbyist, they said.

Tommy Thomas, a former lawmaker who now lobbies, will lose clients as a result of the executive order.

“The sad thing about it is, it is good politics, but it is not good policy,” Thomas said.

The Oklahoma Lottery Commission paid a lobbyist $70,000, said Jay Finks, deputy director.

The lobbyist was helpful in getting a law changed to allow the agency to give bigger prizes, he said. The change was something the agency had unsuccessfully advocated for years.

Larger prizes meant more revenue given to education, Finks said.

The new revenue more than covered the $70,000 paid to the lobbyist, Finks said.

Some agencies have legislative liaisons on staff, Finks said, but his agency isn’t one of them.

“We are going to follow the rules and the executive order,” Finks said. “We do value what lobbyists can do to help us so we can keep our eye on our mission, which is increasing sales and driving additional dollars to Oklahoma education.”

Dan Sullivan, CEO of the Grand River Dam Authority, said hiring a contract lobbyist is a cost-saving measure for his agency.

“Our contract is for $48,000,” said Sullivan, a former House member. “That is far less than we could pay anyone plus benefits, mileage and a hotel.”

The University of Oklahoma also cited cost savings for its use of what it described as “government relations consultants.”

“The University of Oklahoma has a responsibility to communicate with the Oklahoma Legislature, governor and other state agencies on policies and legislation that impact students, employees and citizens. Most often that work entails responding to inquiries of elected officials,” the university said in a prepared statement.

“In doing so, the university has government relations consultants on contract who assist with communication, policy development and legislation that support our mission. Consultants provide these services on an annual basis without the requirement of adding significant personnel and benefits cost.”

Lobbyist Jimmy Durant has contracts with two state entities.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal recently notified him that his contract would end June 30, pursuant to the executive order.

Durant said both entities are fee-based and do not take appropriated dollars.

“I lobbied for and passed the legislation to make the fire marshal non-appropriated so it wouldn’t put a drain on the state budget,” he said.

A lot of the smaller agencies can’t afford to hire someone in-house, Durant said.

A lot of state agencies are not using appropriated dollars to hire lobbyists, but are relying on revenue from fees, he said.

“So in essence, we are saving the state money by not having to pay salaries and benefits,” Durant said.

Former State Fire Marshal Robert Doke sought permission from Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Chip Keating to have the contract with Durant renewed.

“This will not be approved,” Keating wrote in an April 29 email. “State agencies should not need or require an outside lobbyist.”

Keating said in the email that he and another individual would advocate for state agencies within their purview.

“If you guys have specific needs legislatively that require our assistance, we need to know about them,” Keating wrote.

Donelle Harder, a Stitt spokeswoman, said the email should not be taken to imply that cabinet secretaries will be registering as lobbyists.

Harder was asked about the cost-saving argument.

She said state agencies can enter agreements to hire someone and share their services as a legislative liaison.

The individuals would be public employees working under the same rules and laws, she said.

She said no requests for an exemption from the executive order have been granted.

Harder was also asked about a 1995 attorney general’s opinion which said, “Accordingly, we conclude that the Governor does not have the power to issue an executive order prohibiting agencies, boards and commissions from entering into professional or personal service contracts.”

She said the opinion was in response to a specific state statute.

Harder said in issuing the executive order, the governor relied on a provision of the state constitution that gives him supreme executive power.

“The executive order does not explicitly prohibit it,” she said. “It creates a condition that they have to go through the cabinet secretaries for permission.”

Jonathan Small is president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, which supports limited government.

“For years, agencies have cried poverty, yet had sufficient taxpayer money to hire expensive outside lobbyists to pressure the Legislature to give them more taxpayer money or advance some other unaccountable government interest,” Small said. “If that’s not a scam, it comes pretty close. Oklahomans owe Gov. Stitt their thanks for trying to stop this abuse.”

Featured video

Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."

Read the story: Larry Clark, Jason Lee exhibits show Oklahoma from inside, outside

City, Tulsa Development Authority push pause on Greenwood/Unity Heritage Neighborhoods Sector Plan

The Tulsa Development Authority and city of Tulsa envision putting on hold until the spring of 2020 any policies linked to the use of eminent domain in the amended Greenwood/Unity Heritage Neighborhoods Sector Plan.

At a meeting Thursday, the TDA approved five new members to a Citizens Advisory Team that will assist with the amended plan, which drew opposition from dozens of people at a March City Council meeting. The TDA was accused of failing to adequately communicate the proposal’s details, which allows the urban renewal organization to acquire blighted property — by purchasing it or through eminent domain — for private development and other revitalization efforts.

“We are pushing the pause button certainly on any uses of eminent domain and even the blight study that needs a better understanding of the citizens on how that came about,” City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said during an interview outside Thursday’s meeting. “That was not done properly.”

TDA and the city are undertaking two major projects that will help guide development and redevelopment moving forward in the sector plan, according to TDA documentation.

One is a downtown area housing study that kicks off Monday. It is designed to analyze current and future demands in key neighborhoods, helping the city determine how to increase affordable housing options and spur the development of high-quality, mixed income communities.

The other project, which begins after July 1, is a master planning effort for the Kirkpatrick Heights and Greenwood neighborhoods. This will provide residents and stakeholders the chance to participate in the planning process for the land immediately west of OSU-Tulsa and along Greenwood Avenue, acreage recently that went back in TDA control.

For both projects, people will have the opportunity to engage in focus groups, online surveys and open houses. Once these efforts have been completed, a process expected to extend to the spring of 2020, the Citizens Advisory Team will be relaunched to consider an amendment to the sector plan that presents appropriate policies related to the use of eminent domain.

Among the five people OK’d for the Citizens Advisory Team on Thursday were urban farmer and activist Nathan Pickard, Andrea Chambers of the Antioch Baptist Church and Julie Miner of the Indian Nations Council of Governments. The other 30 members of CAT were approved at the May TDA meeting.

The Greenwood/Unity Heritage Sector is bordered on the north by Gilcrease Expressway, the south by the Inner Dispersal Loop, the east by U.S. 75 and the west by L.L. Tisdale Expressway.

By statute, TDA has held the authority to acquire blighted properties and exercise eminent domain since 1959, and it has used that power in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood and other parts of town, including north Tulsa. But when the Greenwood/Unity Heritage Neighborhoods Sector Plan was approved in 2016, it did not include the statutory language required for TDA to exercise its full powers to implement urban renewal programs.