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Tulsa River Levees Are Failing


Floodplain: An area of low-lying ground adjacent to a river, formed mainly of river sediments and subject to flooding.

100-Year-Flood: Used to mean that chances are 1 in 100 that a major flood will hit an area in a year. 500-Year-Flood meant the chances are 1 in 500. However, in recent years there have been so many 500- and even 1000-year weather events that the term 100-year-flood is virtually meaningless. The Dutch, considered the world’s levee system geniuses, now use 10,000-year construction and flood mitigation standards.

Common Sense: Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.


THE PROBLEM: Tulsa’s deteriorating Arkansas River levees will not hold back rising waters if there’s a major flood. 

♣ Not even one that’s 60% by volume of Tulsa’s catastrophic 1986 flood, which left thousands displaced. 

♣ The Army Corps of Engineers calls Tulsa’s 1940-era levee system one of the highest-risk hazards in the country.  It is currently conducting a study of Tulsa’s failing levees. 


EXTREME WEATHER events grow more common as our climate warms. 

♣ Oklahoma’s chief climatologist says to expect more frequent mega-rain storms. 

♣ Most cities have adjusted their flood mitigation and development codes accordingly, upgrading from the old 100-year-flood standards to much more stringent 500-year-flood standards.  


DEVELOPMENT:  Tulsa continues to greenlight developments in the Arkansas River Floodplain using obsolete 100-Year-Flood standards. 

♣ Mayor Bynum has championed $127 million to build a scenic bridge and low-water dam, which are highly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding. Not even the historic flooding of 2019, which compromised the levee system, has dampened his river development ambitions.


THE RESULT: Unless we fix our levees (a minimum $90 million pricetag), Tulsa will flood again. 

♣ A 500-year flood represents 1.6 times the 1986 flood, with six to eight feet of water over the tops of the nonfunctioning levees. The Corps of Engineers projects damages from a 500-year flood would put 10,000 people at risk and exceed $2.5 billion in Tulsa County. Toxicity of the floodwaters will be a major issue.


WHAT YOU CAN DO: The Arkansas River flows through Tulsa, Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby, all in Tulsa County. Since the 1986 flood wake up call, and the harsh lessons of the 2019 flood, few elected officials have acknowledged just how dangerous our broken levee system has gotten.

♣ Email TulsaTalksClimate@gmail.com to receive emails and calls to action on this issue.

♣ Contact the major’s office: 918-596-7411 or mayor@cityoftulsa.org
& the Tulsa City Council: 918-596-1990

♣ Talk about this issue with family, friends, peers, etc. Help spread the word.


Further Reading


“We take the [damaged levee] pieces to a machine shop and try to meld it together. Isn’t it amazing in 2017 a city is relying on this to keep it safe from floods?”–Todd Kilpatrick, levee commissioner. READ ALAN GREENBLATT’S 2017 STORY ON TULSA FLOODING IN GOVERNING.COM


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