Lawton city officials hope the USDA will help them fund flood prevention studies of two of the city’s primary raw water sources.
This week, city council members agreed to allow city employees to submit a funding request to the USDA for a watershed study of East Cache Creek and Medicine Creek. Both cheeks are subject to massive flooding, said Public Works Director Larry Woolcott, which is why the City of Lawton wants to do the studies. The end result, Wolcott said, could help identify solutions to flood problems, to include structures, diversion work, water retention areas, and lake gate operations.
The study will be funded by the US Department of Agriculture. Wolcott said of the potential funding, which USDA officials said is already available. “It’s a way to reduce flooding.”
Current laws require the USDA to provide funding to assist in the planning and construction of projects built by local sponsors. Mayor Stan Booker said Lawton’s application is bolstered by the fact that six regional cities are supporting the effort.
“We need to agree to this, Council,” Booker said, adding that the city of Luton has known since August 2022 that funding is available and that it is important for other cities to move the study forward.
The application is seeking funding for a watershed study that would focus on Lawton, Fort Sill, and Comanche County, with the goal of identifying measures that can reduce flood damage while protecting water quality. Flood damage is a problem that has been going on for decades.
East Luton is particularly vulnerable to flood damage when East Cache Creek overflows, with the addition of housing, roads and other infrastructure suffering as a result of the torrential influx. During past major floods, East Lawton has been cut off primarily because flood waters often block parts of Rogers Lane, East Lee Boulevard, and East Gore Boulevard, and has isolated neighborhoods such as Turtle Creek and Garden Village.
In addition, the city’s efforts to protect Ellsworth Dam by opening its gates increases the flow of water into East Cache Creek, which people downstream have said exacerbates flooding for them. Flooding problems at Walters led to a lawsuit which is why Luton has specific guidelines for controlling when and how much sluice gates are opened.
Flooding from Medicine Creek damaged structures and infrastructure in Medicine Park, including businesses and facilities built along the creek in downtown. Parts of Fort Sill were also damaged.
And the floods seem to be getting worse.
According to statistics provided by the City of Luton, Luton recorded 66 “flood events” between 1951 and 2017.
11 separate events were recorded in the 2015-2016 season. The region’s historic drought was triggered in late spring 2015 by torrential rains that filled lakes and ponds across the region before causing massive floods that caused extensive damage. Three of those 11 events resulted in declarations of natural disasters, according to city statistics.
Floods in May and June 2015 destroyed 196 homes in Lawton County and Comanche, and caused significant damage to roads and bridges, with overpasses. The storms also displaced 25 families in Fort Sill and were responsible for the death of a soldier who died when his car drifted into Medicine Bluff Creek while he was trying to navigate a low-water crossing.
Those storms also destroyed the gates of the Lutonka Dam and damaged the concrete Ellsworth culvert. While the Lawtonka gates have been repaired, city officials are still putting in the funding to pay for needed improvements to Ellsworth Dam.