Filling Waxhoma breach takes more than a million pounds of rock

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Crews worked overnight from Wednesday to Thursday last week to fill a breach in the spillway at the Lake Waxhoma dam, east of Barnsdall, using more than a million pounds of rock to temporarily secure the dam and allow local, state and federal officials time to fashion a long-term solution.

“We’re just hoping that’s going to hold it until we figure out what we’re going to do next,” said Johnny Kelley, mayor of Barnsdall.

Barnsdall gets drinking water from Lake Waxhoma. Kelley said there had been a breach at the northeast end of the spillway and he had been notified of it Wednesday morning, May 19.

“It’s going to be expensive to replace it,” Kelley said, adding no one was in immediate danger following the repair work. He spoke of seeking funding from state and federal sources.

“We’ve got it back to where it’s not running and we’re not worried about it blowing out right now,” said Jerry Roberts, director of Osage County Emergency Management.

Roberts said those responding to the situation worked more than 24 hours between early Wednesday and Thursday. A local quarry, the Candy Creek Crusher, provided rock for the emergency response, he said.

Roberts said the breach was about 20 feet in width and 15 feet in height, and that water was initially draining from the lake. Teams responded from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Rural Water Association. Oklahoma Emergency Management representatives also responded.

Experts assessed the situation and calculated there were some 660 million gallons of water in the 70-acre lake, Roberts said. A preliminary working figure for the possible cost of a long-term solution to the problem at Waxhoma was approximately $20 million, Roberts said. He stressed that was just an early estimate.

There had been concern for the potential downstream impacts if the Lake Waxhoma dam were to give way, Roberts said. He explained that a field meeting for municipal officials from communities such as Avant, Skiatook and Sperry had been held.

John Heskett, city attorney for Barnsdall, said the dam at Lake Waxhoma had been inspected annually and had passed the inspections without noted deficiencies.

“This is a new issue to the (city) council that is quite by surprise and unexpected,” Heskett said. Barnsdall would be seeking emergency funding through the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, he said.

Roberts said last Friday that weather experts did not anticipate rainy conditions during the coming days would jeopardize the temporary solution to the problem at the dam.