Tulsa's levee system badly in need of repairs; Army Corps warns of big future floods

Our recent heavy rains and flooding provide a reminder that Tulsa's levee system is badly in need of updating. (KTUL)

SAND SPRINGS, Okla. (KTUL) - Our recent heavy rains and flooding provide a reminder that Tulsa's levee system is badly in need of updating.

So far this year, a system that was built during World War II hasn't been tested, but it needs at least $34 million in repair work.

District 12 Levee Commissioner Todd Kilpatrick said they work hard on daily maintenance, but there are bigger issues that need to be addressed with the system.

Kilpatrick said, "It's very high risk. You put water on it at a high level and you're going to have some failures. That's a known."

The system had design problems from the start. The huge earthen barriers are made of river silt and sand, so when they're pressured by high water they are subject to seepage and failure.

The internal drainage system that should prevent those problems needs to be replaced and the old clay pipes have become clogged with sand.

Kilpatrick said the levees can't handle prolonged high water.

As muddy water raises the level of Lake Keystone to the west, it's a reminder that a big flood in the future is a certainty, not just a possibility.

The Army Corps of Engineers tries to make the water releases as safe as possible, but Corps Hydraulic Engineer Eric Tichansky warns the wrong weather could force them to test our levees.

Tichansky said, "Though we have these measures to reduce the risk of flooding, it still a risk and it's really good for the public to know their risks."

Those living behind the levees should have plans in place for flooding. You don't want to wait until there's an evacuation order to prepare.

In the best possible case, all the needed repairs will take years to complete.

County Commissioner Karen Keith can't wait to see progress.

Keith said, "Locally the impacts of potential loss of life is absolutely frightening and think about the environmental impacts if the refineries were to get inundated."

Tulsa's voters have allocated $15 million for repairs to match federal funds.

However, the first step is a study to focus the repair work and that study still needs a $1.5 million appropriation from Congress.

There's hope that funding will be approved this month, but the study could raise additional concerns.

There are fears it will identify additional repair needs and multiply the funding needed to bring the system up to modern standards.

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