The Keystone Dam releases water from Keystone Lake to the Arkansas River on Friday, May 24, 2019. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World

I never thought to question the way Lake Keystone is managed, but that has changed after a month of rain and regional crisis.

According to the Keystone Emergency Action Plan of 2011, “The Failures of Teton, Baldwin Hills, and other modern dams have demonstrated the alarmingly short period necessary for a dam to breach and the destructive potential of the resultant uncontrolled release of water. The expeditious notification of the public is essential in minimizing loss of life.”

Many do not realize how close we recently may have come to incomprehensible disaster.

In May, Mayor Bynum stated that 215,000 cfs was the minimum rate the Corps of Engineers could release “to keep the water in the reservoir from topping the floodgates.”

“If the floodgates don’t work,” he said, “the dam could fail.”

According to a May 28 Tulsa World story: “Engineers think the lake won’t overflow the floodgates and create a catastrophic situation; but…rain is in the forecast…"

Also, David Williams, Tulsa district chief of hydrology and hydraulics engineering said that any significant rainfall on the lower basin or reservoir is problematic: "We just don’t have capacity…’"

The possibility of failure was, evidently, very real.

To help prevent similar situations, the “normal” Keystone water level should be recalculated and lowered significantly; countless lives ought not be jeopardized the next time a record month’s worth of precipitation flows into the reservoir.

Who needs a ticking bomb up the river?

Editor's Note: Jonathan Pinkey is the grandson of Col. Vernon Pinkey, who supervised the construction of the Oklahoma portion of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation Project as district engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Send letters to letters@tulsaworld.com.

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