Key Corps of Engineers team member addresses Arkansas River development process

ArkansasRiverTulPark1A key member of the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers team responsible for creating the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan is speaking out about the specifics of the proposed river development package, up for vote in Tulsa County on Tuesday, Oct. 9.

As a project manager for the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers, Cynthia Kitchens manages “general investigation projects” in the Tulsa District, as well as reallocation studies and land sales.  But what, exactly, is the Tulsa District, and what does it do?

The Tulsa District covers a geographic area spanning the Arkansas River basin in northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas, and the Red River basin in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas.  Since 1939, Tulsa District has served as the federal government’s water resource planning agent, and continues to execute water resource planning responsibilities.  Working with tribal governments and communities, and other federal, state and local agencies, the district seeks to identify and develop solutions to water resource issues.

Though Kitchens currently oversees roughly a dozen projects throughout the region, she views the Arkansas River project as something special.

ArkansasRiverTul2“It’s an honor to be able to work on this project,” she said.  “We’ve got an outstanding technical team, and it’s really humbling to be the project manager for this project.  We’ve pulled the best and the brightest in to work on this project, not just from the district but from the national Corps – we have a Ph.D. from Vicksburg helping us with our Phase III ecosystem restoration plan, and he’s given us some great ideas on shoreline stabilization and habitat restoration.”

As for the design of the proposed low-water dams, Kitchens said the recognized subject-matter expert in low-water dams below reservoirs, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has also been brought in to work on the project.

Partnerships are nothing new for the Corps.  Years ago, when Tulsa’s Mingo Creek was the nation’s number-one flooded area, the City of Tulsa and the Corps joined forces to identify, design and construct a federally-approved project to correct the area’s persistent flooding problem.  The resulting project gained national recognition.

“Public safety is really our main emphasis,” Kitchens said, “Also, we want to ensure that there’s no harm to the environment – and while we haven’t yet started on the impact studies to see just what the impact is going to be on the environment, we have started on the background work, to establish a baseline.”

Kitchens said that at the national level, it has been recognized that there is an evolution away from the Corps’ traditional role in building flood damage-reduction reservoirs.

“They are very interested in the Arkansas River, in the sense that they’re waiting to see what Congress will do with regard to this project,” she said.  As for matching federal funds, Kitchens admits that the Corps is currently “far from the match.”

“I think what makes Tulsa unique is that while they do have some money to match federal dollars, they have learned how to work the federal funding authority system, through Congress, and to get Congressmen Sullivan and Senator Inhofe – and possibly even Senator Coburn – to support the project,” she said.

Kitchens said that although the Corps has not yet received the wetlands permit application package to review, it will be reviewed – thoroughly – when it is received.

“Not only will we look at endangered species, the wetlands issues and the cultural resources – which is pretty much Native American and historic home sites – we’ll also look at the socio-economic impacts and determine what those are going to be for people who live along the river,” she said.  “We’re not going to permit anything that’s going to have a negative impact.”

Kitchens said several more geotechnical studies will need to be done to determine the exact placement of the low-water dams before the Corps can submit their completed application.

“Even if the application had already been submitted, that information would still have to be gathered before the permit could be issued,” Kitchens said, adding that adjustments on the plan will be made accordingly.

ArkansasRiverTul1“The county will sit down for pre-application meetings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation to determine exactly what their concerns are – before that process actually begins,” she said.

Kitchens said that Phase III will be completed in December of 2007, and the plans for future phases are still up in the air.  The corps will host a series of public meetings in December.

“We’ll have the Tennessee Valley Authority come in and explain their water management system, and we’ll have our ecosystem restoration plan put together, and we’ll have that environmental baseline data,” Kitchens said.

The first two phases of the project, begun in 2003, have already been completed.

Historic Chronology of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan
PHASE I – Master Plan Study

In 2003, the Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District, became involved with the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan study through a cost-share agreement with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Indian Nation’s Council of Governments (INCOG). Working together, the process leading to a River Vision Plan was begun. The goal was to identify the best land uses along the Arkansas River corridor considering factors such as floodplains, endangered species, wastewater discharges, and transportation.

The result of the Phase I study effort was a composite plan for land use along the entire corridor beginning just downstream of Keystone Lake in northwestern Tulsa County and ending at the Tulsa/Wagoner County line.

That draft River Vision Plan was presented at multiple public meetings where community members were encouraged to provide comments. A top ten list was developed from the input received.

A steering and advisory committee was formed and that team met with federal and state resource (fish and wildlife) agencies. Information from the agency meetings, along with input from public, helped to guide further refinement of the vision.

In June 2004, the River Vision Plan was unveiled (see and that led directly to Phase II study efforts.

PHASE II – Master Plan Study

Phase II study of the master plan was a continuation of the same cost-share partnership as Phase I. This phase involved more rigorous technical and engineering evaluation of the concepts. It also included a series of public meetings, budget projections, possible funding streams, and conceptual plans with architectural drawings.

One of the most important aspects in regard to public safety was completed in this phase. The Arkansas River hydrology model was updated and used to determine the impact low-water dams would have on water levels. This study determined there would be no impact to water levels during high-water events.

By the time the study ended, it had been presented at 18 public meetings, and coordination with resource agencies continued throughout the phase of study.

This was a very comprehensive study costing $750,000 which was completed in October 2006 (see

PHASE III – Master Plan Study – Environmental and Low-Water Dam Studies
To be completed December 2007

When Phase II of the Master Plan was completed, it was realized that implementation of the plan would require extensive environmental studies, and that public safety issues with low-water dams needed to be addressed. These items are the focus of Phase III study (Environmental and Low-Water Dam Studies). The Oklahoma Water Resources Board and Tulsa County are partners for this $750,000 cost-shared effort.

ArkansasRiverJenksThe primary objective of this phase is to have all the data needed for the Clean Water Act, Section 404 permit application. To accomplish that objective, this study gathered baseline information on the populations of plants and animals along the river. This information was necessary to evaluate impacts to habitat from project implementation. Additionally, experts from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were brought in to assist with modeling water quality impacts and to recommend public safety measures for two of the proposed low-water dams and the existing Zink Dam. The TVA specialists exceeded expectations by providing preliminary concepts for an integrated water system.

Features of the plan include a proposed pool in Sand Springs that fills with hydropower production releases from upstream Keystone Lake. The Sand Springs low-water dam would slowly release water into the Zink Lake and Jenks/South Tulsa pools so that there is more water in the river. All of the proposed dams would have seasonal pools. This means that gates would be lowered in the spring to allow fish passage. The dams would also allow for passage of high water with no impact to flooding. It is also proposed to create Interior Least Tern nesting islands in and below the pools.

More than in other study phases, concepts of the Phase III study have been coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The Phase III – Master Plan Study, Environmental and Low Water Dam Studies report should be completed by December 2007 and a series of public meetings will be held.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 03 October 2007 )