Heavy rains cause power loss and threaten evacuations below two Oklahoma dams

Early morning Dec. 28, officials in Altus, in the southwest corner of Oklahoma, have asked people to conserve water because of a power outage at Tom Steed Reservoir.

Mountain Park Dam, Mountain Park Project, forms Tom Steed Reservoir, and regulates natural flows of West Otter Creek and diverted flows from Elk Creek to provide municipal and industrial water supplies for the cities of Altus, Snyder and Frederick.

Oklahoma’s emergency management officials say hospitals are reporting that eight people have suffered storm-related injuries as severe weather and a blizzard pounds the state. The nature of the injuries is not immediately known.

Later in the day around 10:30 a.m., Oklahoma’s Grand River Dam Authority issued warnings that it could require mandatory evacuations downstream from Pensacola Dam on Grand Lake and John Kerr Dam on Lake Hudson.

In an official warning, GRDA said people below both dams should prepare to evacuate as GRDA begins releasing high volumes of water.

“This is the Grand River Dam Authority. Due to heavy inflows, it is necessary to begin releasing high volumes of water. This may or will cause flooding in areas below Pensacola and Kerr dams.

“This condition mandates that you monitor local water levels and prepare to evacuate.

“This is NOT a test.

“Please understand that immediate action should be taken. At this time, it is anticipated that the discharge at Pensacola Dam will be 150,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and at Kerr Dam the release will be 180,000 cfs.

“Further information can be secured at GRDA’s Emergency Operation Center at 918-256-0911. Thank you for your cooperation,”

Grand Lake elevation was 752.96 ft and its daily target elevation for Dec. 28 is 742 ft. Lake Hudson elevation was 634.53 ft. and its normal elevation is 619 ft.

At the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

Pensacola Dam

– As a result of inflows into Grand Lake totaling 214,737 cfs;
– Facility opened four main spillway gates and nine east spillway gates discharging 115,608 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water;
– Six units were online at the powerhouse, releasing 13,435 cfs of water through generation; and
– Releases through floodgates and generation totaled 129,043 cfs.

Robert S. Kerr Dam  

– As a result of inflows into Lake Hudson totaling 205,722 cfs;
– Facility opened six floodgates, discharging 129,618 cfs of water;
– Four units were online at the powerhouse, releasing 29,970 cfs of water through generation; and
– Releases through floodgates and generation totaled 159,588 cfs.

The Emergency Management Department says that as snow and high winds hammer western Oklahoma, warming stations have been set up at churches and other locations. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission says 60,000 homes and businesses are without electricity.

Counties statewide are reporting flooding from heavy rains.

Water from Tom Steed Reservoir is conveyed to cities through an aqueduct system that consists of 40 mi of pipeline, two pumping plants and other facilities. The reservoir has approximately 6,400 acre-ft and 45 mi of shoreline.


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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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