The best that can be said about the recent flooding in the Cherokee Nation is that it could have been worse. President Barack Obama made his expected disaster declaration on December 29, making both state and tribal agencies eligible for federal funding in the 18 hardest-hit counties, none of which were in Cherokee territory. Here’s a quick summary of why the declaration was expected.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s office produced a property damage estimate just south of $20 million for the 18 counties. Fatalities reported at this time are four statewide, a number that should be modified with “only” because of the number of water rescues pulled off by state and tribal first responders and the sheer amount of water.
A piece of movie history was lost when the barn and cabin from Where the Red Fern Grows washed away down the Illinois River. Many families lost personal items that do not make a blip on property damage estimates but mean a great deal to the victims.
The Army Corps of Engineers is still dealing with the ticklish dance of coordinating water releases from the network of dams in Oklahoma. The task is complicated by the volume of water. Sometimes flooding is unavoidable both above and below the dam, and the Corps has the thankless task of allocating misery.
When I was looking for a place to retire, I looked seriously but fruitlessly for a home on the shores of Lake Tenkiller, one of several crystal clear lakes in the Cherokee Nation. This week, the Corp of Engineers opened the floodgates at Tenkiller Ferry Dam, creating a 13,000 cubic-feet-per-second spectacle. Flash flood warnings were issued downstream from the dam.
For the second time in 2015 (the first being during then-epic floods last May), the Corps assured the public that the second highest dam in Oklahoma was in no danger of failing. At the time the release began four days ago, the flood control pool was just under 87 percent full. Weather forecasts included light showers but no more serious rain coming before January 7.