The success of Zink Lake in Tulsa inspired a proposal for more in-river, low water dams (LWD) on the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (INCOG, 2005) would be the basis for locating two high-priority dam locations to be partially funded by Vision 2025 funds. Vision 2025 funds were used to further the refinement of the LWD design concepts, support environmental studies, and prepare federal permit applications and supporting studies.
Environmental data collection and technical studies were completed in 2009 in a cooperative cost-share program with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). USACE completed the Arkansas River Corridor Ecosystem Restoration Plan in 2009 that recommended the construction of the Sand Springs LWD and the South Tulsa/Jenks LWD and identified the potential impacts and improvements that these projects would have on the Arkansas River in Tulsa County. USACE partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) engineers and environmental professionals to identify ecosystem improvement alternatives to mitigate the negative impacts from hydroelectric power generation at Keystone Dam. TVA had much previous experience improving their river systems that were negatively impacted by several hydropower generation facilities operated by TVA. This experience helped identify that these LWDs could be operated as a system to maximize the benefits of water released for hydropower from Keystone Dam. The dam’s two-turbine hydroelectric system is either releasing approximately 6,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) with one turbine operating, or 12,000 cfs with both. Releases are usually shut-off completely during non-peak demand periods. The proposed system would include temporary storage designed into the new Sand Springs LWD that could be filled during hydropower releases and stored temporarily for release during periods of no hydropower release.
The USACE Ecosystem Restoration Plan identified that improvements to the river system in Tulsa County were feasible and should have a federal interest to continue the implementation process. In 2007 the US Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA2007) including Section 3132 which authorized USACE to participate in the ecosystem restoration activities. The act authorized $50,000,000 of federal funds to be matched with local funds for project implementation, although funds would not be appropriated until 2014. Absent any federal funding available upon completion of the USACE Ecosystem Restoration Plan, Tulsa County forged on with Vision 2025 funds to start the federal permitting process for Zink Dam improvements (funded separately) and doing environmental and engineering studies for the Sand Springs, South Tulsa/Jenks and Bixby LWD locations.
These Vision 2025-funded environmental and engineering studies were used as the basis for the 2016 Vision Tulsa sales tax extension that is funding improvements to Zink Dam and will fund the design and construction of the South Tulsa/Jenks LWD. These studies were also used by USACE to perform the Arkansas River Corridor Feasibility Study that began in 2015.
The USACE Feasibility Study identified that the Sand Springs LWD provided significant environmental benefits to the Arkansas River ecosystem with the ability to improve the flow regime of the river, especially during low flow and non-generation periods at Keystone Dam. The final Feasibility Study Report released in 2018 recommended constructing the Sand Springs LWD, improving the wetland habitat at the confluence of Pratt Creek and the Arkansas River near the Sand Springs LWD site, and providing for a least tern nesting island downstream. The next phase of the USACE Arkansas River Corridor project, Pre-construction Engineering and Design (PED), began in mid-2019 and is projected to take five years to complete if federal funding is appropriated in a timely fashion. The local match is provided by Tulsa County, the non-federal project sponsor, using Vision 2025 funds.
The initial application for the federal Section 404 permit for the South Tulsa/Jenks LWD was submitted to USACE in 2015 by Tulsa County as the applicant. This permitting project was funded by Tulsa County with Vision 2025 funds for the Arkansas River. After an extensive and thoughtful permitting process, USACE issued the final Section 404 permit in mid-2020. The implementation process, including final design, has not yet begun. Funding for this next phase was included in the 2016 Vision Tulsa package and the Vision 2025 renewal approved by Jenks voters in 2016.