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Tulsa's 70-year-old levees could be a problem

Tulsa's levees need substantial work performed in order to update the 70+ year old structures. (KTUL)

Tulsa's levee system, built in the 1940s, is currently being assessed to determine if the infrastructure can or will be upgraded, as the system 20-mile-long system is in desperate need for attention and could be the city's Achilles heel in the event of a large flood.

The images were shocking; one of the country's largest cities severely flooded.

"We do not want Tulsa to be the next Houston," said concerned resident Sheila Swearingen.

After Tulsa's flood in '84, the city took incredible steps to address flooding issues; however, it may not be enough now.

"We have one of the best stormwater management systems in the country. We don't have a good levee system," Swearingen said.

"It is kind of a dicey situation," said Deputy Tulsa County Commissioner John Fothergill, echoing the sentiment that Tulsa's levee system is essentially our Achilles heel when it comes to the danger of flooding.

"We almost had our levees decertified," Fothergill said.

Built in the 1940's, the twenty miles of large grass berms and their accompanying infrastructure need millions of dollars of upgrades.

"Our pump stations, literally we have one that has a whiskey bottle float and a mercury switch which turns on the pump," said Fothergill.

Add to that, the time when a train was called in to make sure one section of the levee stayed in place.

"They actually parked a locomotive on top of, there's a train track that goes where the tie-in is, and they were worried that it was going to float the pipe because of too much pressure and so they parked a train, locomotive, on it just to make sure that it didn't come up through the ground," Fothergill said.

"Could your home or business be flooded? Let's fix the levees," said Swearingen.

That is the subject of an upcoming community forum on the topic next week to be held at All Souls Unitarian Church near 29th and South Peoria on Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m.

"Didn't Benjamin Franklin say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" said Swearingen.

Shedding light on the levees, with the hope it doesn't take another Houston before Tulsa takes action.

"I think we are sitting pretty good, you know if that 500-year event happens though, all bets are off," said Fothergill.

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