Who needs low-water dams in Arkansas River? It’s turbine time

Donate
Engineer Charles Pratt speaks at Tulsa's Leadership Vision meeting Friday morning at the Southern Hill Marriott. Pratt proposed  putting small turbines in the  Keystone Dam to provide a steady stream of water downstream, potentially eliminating the need for new low-water dams. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier
Engineer Charles Pratt speaks at Tulsa’s Leadership Vision meeting Friday morning at the Southern Hill Marriott. Pratt proposed putting small turbines in the Keystone Dam to provide a steady stream of water downstream, potentially eliminating the need for new low-water dams. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

Remember Tulsa’s Leadership Vision?

I didn’t.

But then I got wind of the group’s Friday morning meeting at the Southern Hills Marriott.

So I showed up and there was Terry Simonson and Bill Masterson and Howard Barnett and Sharon King-Davis and several other movers and shakers.

As Simonson, who founded the organization in 2013, said before the meeting, “these are people who get things done.”

The private, nonprofit group of 32 people meets regularly to discuss topics of import in the city, including the possible consolidation of the city and county park systems.

They’ve also been kicking around another hot topic: how to get a permanent stream of water within the banks of the Arkansas River.

The Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force is looking to accomplish that through the construction of new low-water dams and the modification of Zink Dam as well as other water-diversion methods.

Depending on the number of dams built, the price tag could be anywhere from $200 million to $300 million.

Not cheap, in other words.

So at Friday’s TLV meeting, engineer Charles Pratt offered his answer to this question posed by Simonson: “Before citizens of Tulsa County are asked to throw nearly one quarter of a billion dollars into the river in order to have more water more often, have we fully explored all methods which will accomplish that?”

Pratt’s response: Add small hydro-electronic generators to Keystone Dam.

“If you want it to look like a river” the turbines could accomplish that, Pratt said.

Read Southwestern Power Administration’s written response to adding hydro-power turbines to Keystone Dam

At least two turbines would be installed in the gates of the dam and run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each turbine would produce 300 to 500 cubic feet per second of water downstream.

That would provide the roughly 1,000 cfs of water needed to keep a steady flow of H2O in the river, Pratt said. The cost: $4 million to $6 million for each turbine, including installation.

Who needs new dams that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build when a couple of turbines costing $12 million installed would do the trick?

Or so the thinking goes.

Unfortunately, not every smart person in the room Friday was thinking like Pratt.

Fritha Ohlson with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Southwest Power Administration sat through Pratt’s presentation.

View PowerPoint presentation given at Friday’s Tulsa Leadership Vision meeting.

Southwest Power uses the water stored in the Keystone Dam to generate power for its customers in several states.

She told TLV that there are at least two problems with Pratt’s pitch: running smaller turbines 24/7 would drain the dam’s conservation lake at least once every four years and make it impossible to run the dam’s two large turbines at 6,000 cfs.

“We have already marketed that (rate) by law,” Ohlson said after the meeting. “You would have to get federal legislation” to change that.”

Also seated in the hotel conference room Friday was invited guest G.T. Bynum. Bynum, a Tulsa city councilor, is chairman of the River Infrastructure Task Force.

He described the turbine idea as “interesting” but said it was no substitute for using dams to create lakes in the river.

“The reality of the situation is that if you drain enough water from Keystone to fill the corridor through Tulsa, you will empty Keystone Lake in short order,” Bynum said. “The aim of our task force is simply to better use the water that is already traveling through our community and to do so with a minimum of reliance on outside government entities.”

Simonson, for his part, isn’t sold on the dams. He said that, among other things, he’s concerned that the existing dam proposal does not do enough to ensure that the water in the river would be suitable for recreational purposes or even human contact.

“First, there has to be enough water and second it has to be better water,” Simonson said. “Neither can happen right now.”

If this all sound confusing, that’s because it is. As Bynum likes to say, there is reason Tulsans have been talking about putting water in the river for half a century and have never got it done.

So Friday, it was turbine time. City officials hope to put a dam proposal on the ballot in April. Who knows what other ideas might surface by then and what Tulsa’s Vision Leadership will have to say about the proposal when it is all said and done.

But for now, at least, we know the group is open to listening to other options.

Donate