The most important theme we got from Tulsa World reporter Kelly Bostian’s Keystone Dam story last Sunday was that the dam did its job.
During May’s torrential rains, Keystone held back the better part of the flood, allowing only so much water downstream as was essential to protect the dam’s infrastructure.
During the storm, Keystone Lake hit a record pool, 34 feet above normal. At the critical moment, 275,000 cubic feet were gushing through the dam’s gates every second. That was about 100,000 cfs less than what would have been rushing toward Tulsa had the dam not been on guard.
Exposed parts of the Tulsa area along the Arkansas River flooded, but the damage was much less severe and widespread than it would have been were it not for the dam.
As Bostian said: That’s flood control, not flood prevention.
That distinction has important implications for what Tulsa does now that it has received the May wake-up call.
Specifically, we have to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild and improve the levee system that protects a big part of the area. Right now, the critical part of that job is pushing the Corps to get a fully funded and ongoing feasibility study done before year’s end so that levee work can be in the next federal budget.
At the same time, we need to marshal resources to get those whom we can’t protect out of harm’s way. More floods are inevitable at some point in the future, but that doesn’t mean people need to be living where those floods will strike.
Bostian painted a vivid picture of life at the dam.
It’s a 50-year-old but lovingly cared for and essential piece of Tulsa’s defenses against uncontrolled flooding. Like all dams, it leaks a little bit, but it’s solid and up to its assigned task. Keystone Dam is in good shape, largely because of the smart, dedicated people who run it and who live with the implications of the decisions they make just like everyone else in the Tulsa area.
If we can care for the rest of Tulsa’s flood defenses so well as Keystone Dam has been operated, things are going to work out a lot better in the future.
Planning the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre history center