The heavy rainfall in Texas and Oklahoma this spring caused waterways to overflow and flood resulting in damage to the surrounding area. However, many people have flood control structures to thank for staying dry. It is estimated that in Oklahoma alone, flood control structures successfully prevented $40.3 million in damage during the month of April. A prime example of this occurred in Hammon, Oklahoma.
Positioned on a river bend where the Washita River joins Big Kiowa Creek sits the town of Hammon. The town has experienced two droughts and two floods with two very different results. During the Dust Bowl Hammon experienced prolonged drought which, coupled with poor land management, left the soil hard and resistant to water absorption. In 1934 Hammon experienced a very wet April with a 14 inch downpour. The poor soil conditions resulted in the flooding of the Washita River tributaries and ultimately the river itself. The river flooded two miles beyond its banks, claiming 17 lives and causing $53 million in damage.
This year proved eerily similar to the conditions seen more than 80 years ago. After four years of drought, the spring of 2015 brought with it a record rainfall reaching 26 inches–almost twice the amount as in 1934. But this time the town did not suffer the same fate.
“The dams are making the difference,” said Nena Wells, Upper Washita Conservation District Manager. “We’d likely be underwater if it weren’t for them.” Wells is referring to 142 flood control dams constructed in the Roger Mills County area since the 1950s. This network of dams works to capture and slow the flow of tributaries, preventing a surge of water into the Washita River. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates that this specific dam network successfully captured 58 percent of floodwater upstream, saving Hammon. In both Oklahoma and Texas many areas like Hammon can attribute being spared by the flooding to similar flood control structures.
Although many flood control structures like those that protected Hammon are in place, continued investment in maintaining existing structures and adding new ones is needed. In Oklahoma, it is estimated that $20.4 million in damage could have been prevented if pending plans for dams had been completed. In Texas, an estimated $674 million is needed to repair and rehabilitate flood control structures.
To read more about the history surrounding flooding in Hammon click here.