River Projects Continue to Move Forward

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DESIGN CONCEPT: Plans and studies have been underway to restore natural habitats and build two low water dams in Tulsa County. With the partnership of the Army Corps of Engineers, funding has been increased but not yet met. The Tulsa Concept Plan shows proposed improvements to the area near 71st Street.

Courtesy INCOG

The Arkansas River is certainly nature’s landmark in Tulsa County. Development along the river brings great potential to the area. While rivers such as the Ohio and Mississippi roll along year-round full from bank to bank, the Arkansas goes from full during the rainy seasons to near empty during dry spells. Water is needed year-round in the Arkansas River to tap the full potential of recreational use and properly managed commercial development as well as ecological optimums.

In order to bring more water to the river, the creation of two low water dams has been proposed and continues to develop.

Gaylon Pinc managed the environmental and engineering division of INCOG for over 30 years. He has been an important part of the project. He hopes to bring the low water dams to the area while improving the natural habitats that make the river so unique.

Pinc explains that Zink Dam, which was constructed over 35 years ago, is the only existing low water dam in Tulsa County on the Arkansas River. Just as this created deeper water, many would like to see this occur in more areas of the county through the additional low water dams.

There are a number of reasons for low water levels in the Arkansas River. One of the main reasons is the nearby Keystone Dam. Pinc says, “Though located in far west Tulsa County, the structure provides flood control and even hydropower for the area. Operated by the Corps of Engineers, Keystone Dam enables the riverbeds to be filled with water when released. This also causes water levels to become very low.”

Known as a prairie river, sand deposits throughout the bed create natural habitat for a variety of wildlife and plants. Pinc says, “With the loss of the natural deposits from regular water flow, the habitat has changed in quality.”

Through the importance of sand in the water, the natural state of the river is to always have remaining sand deposits. Downstream sands are no longer replenished by upstream sediment due to being caught behind Keystone Dam. In addition, when the water is released, “the kinetic energy continues to wash much of what is left of the deposits away.”

The Arkansas River Master Plan was developed to restore the natural habitats throughout the area while the additional proposed low water dams are constructed. “Instead of a prairie river, the area of the low water dams would change into a low level lake setting. The deposits would need to be supported in a way that they remained available for the habitat to be sustained and grow.”

Diversifying the habitat through this setting as seen by some would improve the area since the original habitat will never be fully recovered.

Vision 2025 included the two low water dams in Tulsa County and provided partial funding for the project. Elected officials agreed to provide matching funds. “The current estimate for one low water dam is $40 million, which is much more than initially expected. A way to meet this cost will need to be established.”

The Corps of Engineers requested to be a partner in the design and construction of the river corridor projects. This has brought talent, additional funds and expertise to the project.

Beginning in 2007, studies by the Corps of Engineers have taken a look into the environmental affects that the low water dams would have on the area. “Ecosystem improvements have been suggested. They will begin to take shape and be managed so that the habitat is sustainable. This will help habitat that has transitioned, degraded or disappeared completely.”

With the baseline studies completed, it was verified that the Arkansas River is in need of environmental restoration and that the low water dams in this particular area of the river are among the viable alternatives that the Corps will study once needed funding is secured. For more information, visit www.incog.org.

Updated 01-24-2011

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