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No Extra Keystone Dam Water Likely for "Water in the River"

Keystone Lake Dam
KWGS File photo
Keystone Lake Dam

It’s unlikely communities on the Arkansas River will tap Keystone Dam to put water in the river.

Fritha Ohlson is with Southwestern Power Administration, the agency that generates power at Keystone. She said water behind the dam is already spoken for.

"If there were a storage reallocation that impacted that hydropower or impacted one of the water supply users, those users that have paid for that storage have to be compensated," Ohlson said. "And we're talking about in the tens of millions of dollars."

Any reallocation of water behind Keystone Dam would also require congressional action.

Any water that does come from the dam will do so in currently allocated amounts. River levels near Zink Dam peak about five hours after the hydroelectric turbines run; however, SWPA can’t generate power more often.

"If we were to run both units 24 hours a day right now, the entire conservation pool would be depleted in seven days," Ohlson said. "Let's say we have normal inflow and we're at [the] top of [the] conservation pool — we would deplete it in 11 days."

Power generation at the dam happens around peak power usage times. Proposed low-water dams would capture the discharged water that would otherwise flow by when few people are at the river.

Overall, there's been less water flowing in the Arkansas River since Keystone Dam was built. The decrease in water releases is largely a product of drought.

Ohlson said from 1987 to now, the turbines were spinning fewer than four hours a day just one-third of the time.

"If we just look at the last five years — we've had some kind of dismal last five years in terms of inflow — that less than four hours generation has been a little bit more than half the time," Ohlson said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forecasts 2014 will be in the bottom 10 years on record for water flowing into Keystone Dam.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.