The Adair County Conservation District, City of Stilwell, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission broke ground for the first upstream flood control dam in the nation to be rehabilitated using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds. The groundbreaking was held Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, at the site of the dam Sallisaw Creek site 18M near Stilwell in Adair County, Okla.

In addition to flood control benefits, the lake provides municipal water supply to Stilwell, population 3,276 according to the 2000 Census, and to area rural water supply systems. Earth Builders, Inc., of Decatur, Texas, received the contract for rehabilitation construction with a bid of $4,021,736. Sallisaw 18M will be the fourth dam in Adair County to be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation on Sallisaw Creek Sites No. 15, 16 and 20 was completed this month by C. Watts and Sons Construction Co. of Oklahoma City at a cost of $3,510,221. The total construction cost for rehabilitation of the four dams in Adair County was $7,531,957. Among the structures and residences protected from flood water by the dams are the Dalonegah School, kindergarten through 8th grade, Cave Springs School, kindergarten through 12th grade, and the Cherokee Children’s Mission.

Speakers at the groundbreaking included Kenneth Snodgrass, vice chair of the Adair County Conservation District; Mike Doublehead, general manager of utilities for the City of Stillwell; George Stunkard, Area III Conservation Commission member; Ron Hilliard, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Clay Pope, executive director for the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

“What is special about this project is that it is local, state and federal government working together to benefit the local people,” Snodgrass said. “It is not just the over 3,000 residents of Stilwell who benefit from this lake. The real beneficial impact is for the people on rural water supply in the area, which combined with the city population totals over 8,000 people,” Snodgrass said.

“While the dam provides important flood control, the watershed lake provides much of the water for the City of Stilwell,” said Mike Doublehead, chief operating officer and general manager for Stilwell Utilities and the Stilwell Area Development Authority. “We also supply rural water districts, which in turn provide many of our rural schools with water from this site. This project insures our water supply will be stable well into the future,” he said. “On behalf of the Stilwell Area Development Authority, the citizens of Stilwell and our surrounding community, we want to thank the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the federal government for the commitment shown to our county’s future,” Doublehead said.

OACD President Trey Lam said the groundbreaking represents another first for conservation in Oklahoma. “Oklahoma is the home to many conservation firsts in the country’s upstream flood control program,” Lam said. “We had the first upstream flood control dam in the country (Cloud Creek Site No. 1 in Washita County, July 1948), the first completed flood control system in the country (Sandstone Creek Watershed in Roger Mills County, 1953), and now the first flood control dam to be rehabilitated with funds from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We thank the Governor and the Oklahoma Legislature for providing the state funds needed to match the federal construction dollars and we thank the folks in Washington for making the stimulus funds available. We are excited to be able to continue providing the many benefits of this structure and others like it to the citizens of Oklahoma.”

NRCS State Conservationist Ron Hilliard said “this is a good example of the strong partnership we have in Oklahoma. The NRCS, Adair County Conservation District, City of Stilwell, and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission have worked closely together to get this project ready for constructions so quickly. This involved getting the design finalized, land rights cleared, securing funding for the local sponsors’ share of the project, and the construction contract advertised in a short period of time. Future generations in Adair County will benefit from this good working relationship.”

George Stunkard, Area III Commissioner for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission commended the board and staff of the Adair County Conservation District for their role in the project. “We appreciate the federal and state funding for the project, but it is the local conservation district that deserves the most credit. They are responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair and rehabilitation of these flood control dams now and into the future. It is a big responsibility and we appreciate their commitment to keeping these dams safe and operational.”

Upstream Flood Control Programs

Oklahoma has 129 USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) assisted watershed projects in 64 counties. Over 2,100 watershed dams have been built in the state with financial and technical assistance from NRCS authorized through Public Law 78-534, Flood Control Act of 1944 (Washita River Watershed) and Public Law 83-566Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. Watershed projects address a myriad of natural resource issues such as flooding, soil erosion, water quality, animal waste management, irrigation water management, water supply, wetland development or enhancement, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation. Many of these watershed projects also include conservation practices such as terraces, waterways, ponds, gully control, and pasture and rangeland plantings.

Rehabilitation of Aging Dams

Oklahoma has 321 watershed dams that will exceed their 50-year design life by 2009 and 806 dams will reach this milestone by 2013. In addition to Sallisaw Creek Dams 15, 16, 18M and 20 there are 12 other dams in Adair County that will exceed their 50-year designed life by 2019. Under Public Law 106-472, the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments Act of 2000, rehabilitation projects are 65 percent federally funded with 35 percent cost share from local sponsors.

Sallisaw Creek Watershed

Of the 34 dams in the Sallisaw Creek Watershed, 16 are in Adair County. The dams in the Sallisaw Creek Watershed provide benefits to 720 farms and ranches and 10 bridges and enhanced or created 591 acres of wetlands. They reduced soil sedimentation by approximately 123,120 tons and provide approximately $2,565,783 in annual monetary benefits*.

*Monetary benefits include reduction in flood damages and may include other benefits such as soil erosion control, recreational areas, irrigation water, municipal and industrial water supply, and wildlife habitat. (Based on 2009 dollars).