Dams save lives and property, as much as $85 million a year, just in Oklahoma, says Clay Pope, who stepped down as executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts earlier this month.
Pope commented on how the recent announcement of a $262 million investment to rehabilitate dams will affect farmers and ranchers as well as citizens across the country.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Watershed Rehabilitation Funding that will provide critical infrastructure and protect public health and safety. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller and Representative Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, were in Perry, Oklahoma, to recognize the importance of the investment.
For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
“This investment will protect people and property from floods, help keep our water clean, and ensure that critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations," Weller said. "Families, businesses and our agriculture economy depend on responsible management of dams and watersheds, and we are continuing to provide that support to these communities."
The funds will provide rehabilitation assistance for 150 dams in 26 states. Several of those dams are in Oklahoma.
“Each year Oklahoma’s 2,100 plus flood control structures save our state over $85 million in damage that doesn't happen because they are there protecting Oklahoma lives and property,” Pope said. “In addition, by allowing these funds to be used to expand existing dams and make them into reservoirs we can help towns and cities by insuring additional water supplies.”
Multiple uses for funds
Weller said funding will be used for planning, design or construction. Also, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through the NRCS Watershed Rehabilitation Program. A complete list of the projects is available at FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table page. The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250 thousand people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.
Watershed Dam No. 62 in the Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed of Noble County, Okla., will be included in a USDA-funded rehabilitation partnership project, Weller said. Currently awaiting rehabilitation design, the dam provides protection against flooding to about 550 Oklahomans who live and work downstream. Additionally, the dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways and an interstate highway that, together, support about 16,200 vehicles daily. The dam also protects power lines and railroad tracks. The rehabilitation project is expected to provide about $7.5 million in benefits including flood damage reduction, water supply and recreational benefits.
"These funds will go a long way towards improving the safety and continued benefits provided by these watershed structures," Weller said. "We will work closely with the local project sponsors to ensure that these dams continue to protect and provide water for communities and agriculture."
The funds are possible because of the Agriculture Act of 2014.
“All of the benefits from this program help farmers and ranchers and our cities to adapt to wild weather swings by protecting us from flash floods and by helping us better weather extreme droughts. They are a great tool in helping us adapt to an ever changing climate,” Pope said.
For more information, visit the Watershed Rehabilitation webpage or local USDA service center.