‘We’ll have chaos,’ investigating Oklahoma’s most dangerous dams

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ARCADIA, Okla –  It is the Main Street of America.

Historic Route 66 stretches hundreds of miles over old bridges, past nostalgic icons and through picturesque communities like Arcadia, Oklahoma.

Arthur Ganther, 76,  is a volunteer at Arcadia’s Round Barn.

He’s seen it all through the years, including an alarming increase in strong earthquakes.

Nobody really considered earthquakes when a giant earthen dam was constructed in 1986, to protect Arthur’s town from flooding.

Ganther said, “No, that wasn’t probably on their itinerary, to think about that.”

The dam at Arcadia is one of 376 state structures classified as a “high hazard” by the Oklahoma Water Resource Board.

If there were a breach, there would be “a probable loss of human life.”

Ganther said, “We’ll have chaos because we’re in the lower level. All the water would come right down on us. We would be flooded out.”

The Arcadia dam is inspected annually by the Army Corps Of Engineers.

Inspectors have a routine inspection scheduled for Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, but officials say it has nothing to do with the recent swarm of quakes.

Many of the state’s 4,600 dams are showing signs of age.

Cracks, leaks and cave in’s are becoming more frequent.

Lake Hefner, for example, was built in 1947 and has had no major updates since its construction.

Brian Vance, from the Oklahoma Water Resource Board, confessed, “I don’t think I’d live there even if I knew that dam was the best dam in the world. I still would be a little gun-shy.”

Authorities say a dam failure is very unlikely.

However, central Oklahoma’s tremors have the attention of our state’s decision makers.

Vance said, “We are definitely taking the earthquake risk seriously.”

Last year, the Oklahoma Water Resource Board passed a new rule requiring an unscheduled dam inspection if a magnitude 5.0 earthquake strikes within 50 miles of any dam structure.

If you’re curious about the condition of a dam in your area, the inspection reports are public record and available for review at the Oklahoma Water Resource Board.

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