TULSA - With all the discussion of development along the Arkansas River, and the announcement this week of a massive expansion project at the River Spirit Casino on the river's east bank, many have floated the idea of filling the river with water to enhance its utility as well as its appearance.
However, that dream of an Arkansas River full of water may never come true, because the conditions which have created a largely empty riverbed lie beyond the control of humans.
Additionally, there are very good reasons why dams were built in an effort to control the river to some degree, and why building low-water dams in an attempt to retain water in the Arkansas may pose a real danger.
A two-year drought is one of the major reasons behind the low water levels in the river and the lakes it forms.
Ross Adkins, Public Information Officer for the Tulsa District of the Army Corps of Engineers, says when it comes to the water supply, there's no substitute for rainfall.
"The only water that we have coming in here naturally is of course from rainstorms," he told KRMG. "Unfortunately, Mother Nature has kind of a strange sense of humor and rains only when she doggone pleases."
He points out that the water has many uses, each of which suffer to some extent during a drought.
Examples include "water for municipal and industrial water supply, there's flood control, there's fish and wildlife, there's recreation," and of course hydroelectrical generation.
So releasing a large amount of water just to fill the river could create real problems elsewhere.
Ironically, the other main obstacle to having a full Arkansas River is not a lack of water, but a potential overabundance.
Historically, the Arkansas River flooded two to three times a year, a deadly and costly phenomenon which led the Army Corps and area leaders to develop what has become a world-reknowned floodplain management program.
Part of that system involves retaining water in lakes and releasing it slowly, rather than letting nature take its course.
Thus, building low-water dams downriver from the Keystone dam, for example in Tulsa proper, may not be feasible.
"If you put any obstructions in the river that gets in the way of protecting people from flooding, then we have another problem," Adkins says.
He told KRMG that the Corps can't really comment on the possible impact of such dams until they've seen the plans.
As for the lack of rain, that's a problem beyond any human's capacity to solve.
"Mother Nature would have to rain," Adkins said, "and we'd need a lot of it."