Emergency at Cushing Lake becomes an opportunity

The draining of Cushing Municipal Lake following a breach in the area under its spillway could be an opportunity to make improvements to the 100-year-old lake, which Cushing City Manager Terry Brannon says has filled in with silt, rubbish and debris over the years. Photo courtesy of City of Cushing

When a breach in the spillway at Cushing Lake was discovered Sunday, the city of Cushing, Payne County and state officials scrambled to assess the damage and respond to any potential danger.

But now that the emergency has passed, Cushing city officials are thinking the glass, or in this case, the lake could be half full. Cushing City Manager Terry Brannon says he thinks the unexpected drainage of the municipal lake presents an opportunity.

 A major crisis was averted when the lake’s spillway ruptured. Brannon said he is happy to report that the flow from the lake was controlled enough to be contained in Big Creek and make its way to the Cimarron River without causing any flood damage to surrounding agricultural fields, livestock or structures.

The City of Cushing hasn’t used the lake as a water supply since it switched to ground water from a number of wells in 1998, so recreational users are affected but the city is not worried about having drinking water. That means the city can take its time making decisions about how much work should be done at the lake.

The lake’s water level quickly dropped by more than 8 feet during the first day and a draw down tower was later activated to bring it down further. As the water drained from the reservoir, it became apparent that water had made its way under a concrete barrier and built up behind the spillway, causing a blowout near its base and a collapse of the concrete channel.

The extent of the damage to the spillway and dam is still being assessed.

The soil around the area that breached is still too wet and unstable for engineers to examine the cavern created by the flowing water, Brannon said. Until they make a full inspection, there’s no way to know how much will have to be done.

Brannon said he has also met with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about determining if the heavy, flooding rains this area received in May had damaged the lake’s earthen dam. He doesn’t know if that will result in any financial assistance from FEMA.

The lake, which was built about 100 years ago using horses and plows, has filled in with silt, rubbish and debris over the years. This could be an opportunity to deepen the lake by dredging it out and to make other improvements, Brannon said.

He also sees the potential to make phased improvements that could include camping facilities and sites for amenities like a retail store with bait shop or kayak and paddle board rentals.

“We had the worst circumstances but with the best opportunity for the best outcome,” Brannon said. “...We have the opportunity to go in and do something special if that’s what this community wants to do.”

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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