Lake Waxhoma dam has been stabilized again

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The dam at Lake Waxhoma, east of Barnsdall, was stable as last week came to a close. Separate breaches in the latter half of May caused leaking and required immediate attention.

Barnsdall gets drinking water from Lake Waxhoma.

Jerry Roberts, director of Osage County Emergency Management, said last Friday it wasn’t clear yet where money would come from to finance a long-term fix for the dam.

“We don’t have any answers on where we’re going to get funding yet,” Roberts said. “It’s just a hurry-up-and-wait.”

The first Waxhoma leak incident in May involved a breach at the spillway, and workers toiled May 19-20 to plug it. The second breach was discovered early Saturday, May 29, and Roberts said dirt had given way at a spot somewhat south of the first leak.

“The county stepped in this time and lent some equipment out there and hauled some rock for Barnsdall,” Roberts said.

The lake level had also been pumped down about 9 feet, he said. The result is that, barring any large rain events in the near term, the lake is stable.

“It’s stable enough that we don’t have to worry about the town of Barnsdall losing all its water,” Roberts said.

Stabilization also means that downstream communities, such as Avant, are spared the possibility of flooding.

“A lot of people don’t understand, we have to look at the worst-case scenario and hope it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Barnsdall Mayor Johnny Kelley said the Waxhoma dam situation is being monitored daily, and plans are in place in the event that a major rain causes more leaking. He also said the problems at the dam highlight the financial constraints that small towns like Barnsdall face from day to day.

He said the town was also trying to come up with $6,000 for a needed infrastructure repair, and its work vehicles are “more or less junk.” His monthly pay for being mayor is $152, but he has to pay $300 whenever he needs someone to cover a shift for him at the Bartlesville Fire Department.

“But I care about this town and somebody’s got to do something,” Kelley said.

He expressed gratitude for assistance the town of about 1,100 receives – he noted that Bartlesville had provided a pumper truck for the Barnsdall Fire Department to use.

He also lamented that large corporate interests – the Amazon.com’s of the American economy – seem content to suck money out of small towns without investing anything in them in return.

“They don’t give a damn about small towns. You don’t see them sponsoring ball teams,” he said.

Barnsdall’s city attorney, John Heskett, has explained that the town will be seeking state and federal help with repairs to the Waxhoma dam, which have been estimated as likely to cost millions of dollars.