More leaking discovered at Waxhoma dam

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

In the aftermath of a heavy rain last Thursday afternoon, leaking resumed at the Lake Waxhoma dam, east of Barnsdall.

Barnsdall Mayor Johnny Kelley said a check of the dam about 5 a.m. Saturday, May 29, revealed that water was leaking. He said that contacts had been made with Osage County Emergency Management, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and other agencies.

Kelley said the Barnsdall area received about 3½ inches of rain Thursday afternoon, in the span of an hour to an hour and a half. The town of Barnsdall gets drinking water from Lake Waxhoma, and the mayor said the storm also resulted in additional turbidity of the water. Due to the increased turbidity, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality issued a boil order Friday evening for the Barnsdall Water System.

The boil order noted that Rural Water District No. 5 purchases water from the Barnsdall Water System.

“There’s nothing wrong with the water plant,” Kelley said, clarifying the boil order was a cautionary measure.

The resumption of leakage at the Lake Waxhoma dam brought engineers and hydrologists to the lake for at least the second time in a matter of about 10 days to assess the situation. Crews worked overnight from May 19 to 20 to plug a breach in the spillway at the dam. That effort required more than a million pounds of rock, and it was hoped the dam would be stable until funding could be secured for a longer-term repair and maintenance project.

Violent storms that raked across Osage County on Thursday afternoon, May 27, raised the water level at the lake and caused new problems, however.

Jerry Roberts, director of Osage County Emergency Management, said the rock that had been put in place May 19-20 held. The leaking that was discovered the morning of May 29 was in a location to the south of the previous leak, he said. Dirt had given way, he said.

Kelley said a fishing tournament that had been scheduled for the morning of May 29 — an element of the annual Big Heart Day celebration — had to be canceled.

Efforts were ongoing Saturday to pump down the water level in the lake, Kelley said, explaining that Barnsdall hopes to lower the water level and keep an eye on the dam until project funding can be arranged.

”That’s all we can do,” he said.

Roberts said the latest leak was at the top of the Lake Waxhoma dam, and he understood two large pumps were being used to attempt to lower the water level about 5 or 6 feet.

”Then they can get in there and evaluate,” he said.

A solution to the problems at the dam is expected to cost millions of dollars, and Barnsdall City Attorney John Heskett said following the May 19-20 incident that an attempt was being initiated to obtain emergency funding through the OWRB.