TULSA, Okla. — The Arkansas River is undergoing some changes in Tulsa.
Some days of the year, it looks less like a river and more like sandbars with some water going past. There are several reasons for this, including when and how much water gets released from Keystone Dam.
Lower water levels create few opportunities for recreation on the river, but the dam is vital for safety.
“Flood control, we want Keystone,” Paul Zachary, Tulsa City Engineer said. “Now, what can we do for the other items to make this be like something that we have water in the river.”
By creating a new Zink Dam, water will once again return to the river. The dam will make opportunities for water sports. Tulsa voters approved nearly $50 million to rebuild the dam to create Zink Lake.
According to Matt Meyer, director of Tulsa River Parks Authority, the dam will be safer and will reduce sediment build-up.
“So, the new dam will have gates all the way across, several of which are full height gates, which go all the way to the bedrock,” Meyer said. “And so, when we have high flows, we can open those and that’ll flush out the sand.”
The question remains on how to manage the water.
“We'll have to listen to all the stakeholders, not one stakeholder, but we have to listen to all of them because this is not built for one special interest group," Meyer said.
Those stakeholders include conservationists, anglers, kayakers and the Tulsa Rowing Club.
Mike Kneafsey, boathouse manager for Tulsa Rowing Club, wants to see the dam gates up for a good competitive rowing season. The season is essentially February to June, which is roughly the same timeframe some others recommend keeping them down.
"That's the peak of a high school and competitive season, it would just kill our program, to have the gates down that long," Kneafsey said.
Jake Miller, an angler who frequently fishes the Arkansas River, said lowering the gates between March to June would be the best compromise.
"There are fish spawning for eight to nine months out of the year,” Miller said. “But kind of the compromise that we put out there to just try to play ball is what if we just covered these like high-intensity months?"
Josh Johnston, with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, put forth the March to June gates down timeframe.
"Without getting into crazy ecological models and engineering models, it's kind of an easy way to say, 'Hey, if we just did this, it's pretty good compromise,'" Johnston said. "But obviously, there's going to be a lot of different thoughts on that. If you're a rower, and you want to use the lake, obviously, if those gates are down and there's not a lot of flow, well, then you're not, you're not going to have a lake. But I think we need to compromise in every way we can."
Jeremy Deanda of Tulsa Kayak said however the water is managed it will be suitable for some paddling, which is good for local businesses.
"It'll bring a lot more opportunities to the Tulsa area for especially whitewater kayakers because whitewater kayaking is really dependent on weather and usually when it's good enough water to go paddling it's honestly really bad weather," Deanda said.
When the gates are up, the lake will stretch from the dam near East 31st Street and Riverside up to near the I-244 bridges.
Meyer said discussions on how the dam will operate are happening between consultants and the stakeholders and are likely to continue for quite some time. The new dam and a pedestrian bridge are scheduled to be finished in 2023
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