Zink Lake low-water dam

This is the first in a series of Op/Ed columns titled Who Gets and Who Gives a Dam, Installment I – An overview, to help citizens understand the ramifications of the Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force’s proposal for a series of low-water dams.  Our mission and our goal is to provide as much relevant information as possible including an analysis of how the low-water dams would actually support our local comprehensive plan; utilizing scarce available resources, especially when compared to other projects worthy of merit.

Smart Growth Tulsa is not presently supporting or opposing construction of the proposed dams.  We have every confidence that Tulsans are perfectly capable of deciding these issues for themselves, provided they have enough information about the pros and cons of their approval. So please share your opinions with us and help us shape an official stand on this crucially important matter.

Our hope is that our readers and followers will “Like” our Facebook Page and share this and future installments of our series:  Who Gets and Who Gives a Dam? on social media.  We solicit your feedback and hope to begin a dialogue that will help our elected officials and task force members craft a final river dam or dam’s proposal consistent with what Tulsans say they want and need.

First things,First

We can begin by clearing up a common misconception that the four dams will result in a bank full river from Sand Springs to Bixby.  It won’t.  Three new lakes will be created by impounding water but a considerable amount of the river’s flow will remain unchanged.  The area south of the Zink Dam at 29th Street extending to the northerly most impoundment of the south Tulsa Dam near 81st Street will see no appreciable change in water levels during normal flows.  It will essentially remain the prairie river it is today.

Photo courtesy or G. W. Bill Miller

Photo courtesy or G. W. Bill Miller

In this review we will consider what might be best for Tulsans and cannot speak to the needs or desires of the communities of Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby.  With the costs of their dams expected to be highly subsidized by the citizens of Tulsa who account for 86.6% of the population of the four cities, it is highly unlikely any of them will be against the Task Force’s proposal.  As beneficiaries of a considerable amount of “free money”, why would they?

No Log Rolling Please

With that said, we strongly encourage our local elected officials including Tulsa’s mayor and city councilors to disentangle the re-build of the Zink Dam from the rest of the package.  We suspect the vast majority of Tulsans understand the importance of replacing the worn out old dam to improve safety and complement the $350 million private investment in A Gathering Place for Tulsa.  Simply stated, Tulsans should not be forced to vote against the Zink Dam to avoid subsidizing the costs of dams in the other three communities.

With all due respect, some proponents appear at times to be talking out both sides of their mouths.  It is not a regional issue, they say.  That is why Owasso and Broken Arrow are not included, because they won’t directly benefit from “water in the river.”  On the other hand they say it is a regional issue and Tulsans should support the Bixby and Sand Springs dams because they grow the region.   Well, which is it?  And precisely how do Tulsans benefit by helping encourage new development and job creation in those cities that more likely than not will help to further erode the sales tax base in Tulsa?

Where are the numbers?  Show me the money please.

It is disappointing that no professional return on investment analysis has been provided to estimate the sustainable long term economic benefits of this $300 million investment, nor to compare how those returns might stack up against similar outlays for potential alternatives like an expanded transit system for instance.

The proposal seems to be based more on a hunch or an emotional fantasy that we can transform a prairie river lined with industrial sites into a pristine aquatic playground with a multitude of recreational opportunities.  In spite of the fancy illustrations portraying the new lakes in pacific blue that will not be the case.  We will not be transforming the Arkansas River into anything resembling the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers running through or any of the other riverfront communities visited by task force and chamber members. It is what it is.

Three Rivers Park in Pittsburgh

For reasons far beyond our control the newly created lakes will more often than not be filled with murky brown water.  While more visually pleasing to most than sandbars cluttered with debris they will still lack the inviting unspoiled water quality that makes you want to jump in and swim or canoe.  That has been our experience at Zink Lake and absent the expenditure of hundreds of millions of additional dollars to improve water quality that is what we can expect in the new lakes.

It certainly looks as if the well-meaning Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force members began their work not with a question of whether or not it would be wise or the timing right to build all four dams but rather what it would look like if we did it all now, at our own expense.  That is troubling because it presumes the community is eager for an all or nothing, take it or leave it proposal which we seriously doubt.

Did the Task Force have an agenda?  I think so.

Arguably there would be little opposition to the four dams if someone else, like Uncle Sam were to pay for them but that is extremely improbable, at least for the moment.  If Tulsans play their cards right they will have a chance every 10 or 12 years to consider investment proposals to improve the community’s quality of life.  That is what Oklahoma City has done quite successfully with their MAPS program.  Before they make a decision however, we believe Tulsans deserve to know what worthy projects in Tulsa will be on the chopping block in order to make way for new dams in the other three communities.

In future installments of this series we will take a closer look at the specifics of each dam, their costs, their benefits, and who will pay for them.  We will also consider how many other exciting quality of life improvements could be supported if the dam proposal was whittled from four to two, or even one.

Voters need more information.

In the meantime and in the interest of the “total transparency” which has been promised, we respectfully request that the task force provide voters with the following details:

  • Provide the underlying basis for the proposal. Is it to encourage real estate development, improve quality of life, increase sales taxes, retain and attract a talented workforce? How are the goals to be prioritized?
  • Provide an assessment of the expected deliverables and a time frame in which voters can expect to see the results if all four dams are approved.
  • Provide a complete breakdown of the costs for construction, public access, shoreline stabilization, environmental mitigation, routine maintenance and periodic replacement for each of the four dams, separately.
  • Provide forecasted revenue for each of the four cities, Tulsa, Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby. At the end of the eleven years how much will each of them have contributed to the total $298,040,000 cost?

If not previously provided publically by the Task Force, interested parties may consider asking for the details on these questions at the remaining Town Hall Meetings.

  • June 15th at Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E. 93rd St.,
  • June 22nd at the Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave.
  • June 29th at the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, 2021 E. 71st St.
  • July 1st, at the Perkins Family Auditorium in the OU-Tulsa Learning Center, 4502 E. 41st. St.

Find more information here:  River Town Hall Handouts 

Click here to read Part II


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