Vision2: Wildlife Department opposes new dams on Arkansas River

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The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife is opposed to new dams on the Arkansas River, according to a Public Radio Tulsa news story on the impact of low-water dams on the river's water and wild animals. The Tulsa City Council has included $71 million for modifying the Zink Lake dam and for construction of a new dam near Jenks in their tentative list of projects to be funded by the Tulsa County Vision2 sales tax scheme.

Chris Whisenhunt, fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, says the Department is opposed to any new dams on the river.

He says that sediment buildup in Zink Lake has created water quality that's too poor for some of the river's most important species fish. He says Zink Dam should be improved if possible, because it's a safety concern, and because updates might improve water quality.

He also says the Department would welcome better dam designs, but that it's skeptical whether that would actually happen.

"Currently our only example of what will happen to the Arkansas River is what Zink Lake is right now," he said, "and that is a very poor habitat for most of our sport fish."

The only unequivocally positive comment in the story about new dams comes from Gaylon Pinc, who works for PMg, the company hired sole-source by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to provide program management services for Vision 2025 and other Tulsa County tax packages and which would likely be hired for the same purpose should Vision2 be approved by the voters.

Pinc reportedly attempts to perpetuate the revisionist myth that voters were only voting for studies of building dams in the 2003 Vision 2025 vote.

2025 didn't include enough money to construct any additional low water dams on the Arkansas, just to study their possible environmental effects.

The "vote yes" bunch tried to make this claim back in 2007, when the county river tax was on the ballot, but a look at the Vision 2025 ballot propositions and the way the tax was sold to the voters makes it clear that voters were led to expect dams to be built if Vision 2025 passed. See my blog entry, "Randi's river revisionism", and my column from the same week Dams, not studies, promised in Vision 2025, for a thorough rebuttal.)

The Public Radio Tulsa story also cites concerns from the head of the Tulsa Audubon Society about the impact of new dams on wildlife habitat:

Fifteenth and Riverside, looking out over the Arkansas River, doesn't exactly feel like the kind of exotic locale where you'd expect to find an endangered species.

As it turns out, however, there is a threatened bird that makes its home right here on the river, at least for part of the year.

John Kennington, president of the Tulsa Audubon Society, points out Zink Island, "which is a sand island in the middle of the Arkansas River."

"This is an area that the least terns use to nest on," he said.

That's interior least terns he's talking about, Tulsa's very own endangered bird. The tern is a small species of bird that's currently flown South for the winter.

But Kennington says, when they're here, "they like to nest on a sandy gravelly open area, so the Zink Island gives them some really good habitat for their nests."

You won't find that kind of habitat on a river like the Mississippi. That's because the Arkansas River, in our area at least, is a special kind of waterway, known as a "braided prairie stream."

While I can understand the feelings of those who would like to see a lake in place of the river that we have, I have to wonder whether it makes enough of a difference to make it worth the investment. The changes of the river over the year have a certain fascination. When the water level is low enough, you can see the shelf of shale, right at the bend of the river, that was once a natural ford.

Of course, it's silly for the "vote yes" bunch to claim that Vision2 will "put water in the river." The best we can hope for is to detain water that comes to us from upstream.

Will water in the river really attract the Creative Class to Tulsa, as some claim? Austin has dammed up the Colorado River to form a narrow lake, but it isn't the major draw for young creatives. On my visits to Austin, I observed a small number of joggers and cyclists, but no large gatherings drawn by water in the river. What keeps Austin weird is to be found away from the river on South Congress, Sixth Street, and especially on and near the University of Texas campus.

Wichita has water in their river, but no significant development alongside it. The big draws for young adults are Old Town and East Douglas, not the river.

Old buildings seem to be a stronger draw than water features for young people. Back in 2007, I wrote about a visit to downtown Orlando, Florida, on a Saturday night:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around Lake Eola, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twentysomethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old commercial buildings in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

Let me spell it out for you. In the heart of this modern, sprawling tourist mecca, in the midst of sparkling office towers, a sports arena, and a palm-lined lake, crowds of young people were drawn to 100-year-old buildings which had managed to escape the wrecking ball. The popularity of these buildings did not seem to suffer from being nowhere near the water.

These buildings were the exactly the sort of you find in Tulsa's Blue Dome, Brady, Brookside, South Boston, and Cherry Street districts, the sort that were demolished by urban renewal in Greenwood and where the Williams Center now stands.

The same dynamic, one documented by Jane Jacobs in her 1960 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is at work in Orlando, Tulsa, and cities from coast-to-coast: Old buildings provide a place for new businesses to take root. They provide an opportunity for people with dreams and ideas but not much capital to get something started and improve it over time.

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2 Comments

Barbara VanHanken said:

Thank you, Michael, for sharing this information with the public. It has been known for a long time that water quality in the Arkansas is poor due to the presence of high coliform bacteria count. This is nonpoint source pollution from stormwater runoff of yards with dogs and from leaky old sewer pipes.

We should be spending money on cleaning up the Arkansas. There may be other pollutions coming from industry located near the river that is point source pollution.

Bob said:

Michael: EXCELLENT analysis as commentary, as per usual.

You just don't ever disappoint your weblog followers.

Win or Lose, you have have consistently offered a fair and objective counterbalance to the rash claims, exaggerations, half-truths and hyperbole offered up by the Vision2 mouthpieces:
Mayor Dewey, Jr., Commissioner Smaligo, ARVEST Tulsa CEO Don Walker, and the Metro Tulsa Chamberpots.

You have retained your dignity and your honor.

The current Vision2 leadership sold theirs out to the local ruling Pharissees, without any hesitation, for 30 pieces of silver......

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 3, 2012 4:00 PM.

Vision2: TulsaNow's better vision was the previous entry in this blog.

Vision2 poll's real margin of error is the next entry in this blog.

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