More details emerge in deaths of two boys at Lake Overholser Dam
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More details emerge in deaths of two boys at Lake Overholser Dam

Jun 25, 2023

More details have emerged about the drowning deaths of two boys at Lake Overholser Dam this week.

On Monday, two boys died and two others were rescued after strong currents pulled them underwater, authorities said.

Firefighters responded near the backside of Lake Overholser’s dam, where they deployed four boats and the Oklahoma City Police Department launched two boats. Teams rescued two boys who were trapped on a concrete ledge that connected to the backside of the dam.

The two boys said they were fishing with two younger boys when they decided to enter the water.

The two younger boys were pulled under due to the turbulent waters. The Fire Department told The Oklahoman the boys were reported to be ages 11 and 10.

Around 8:15 p.m., firefighters located one victim about 800 feet downstream. Around 12:15 a.m., first responders located the second victim about 2,800 feet downstream.

At the time of the incident, the dam's floodgates had been open since Sunday.

The Oklahoma City Utilities Department, which manages the river dam at Lake Overholser, said that department staff follow standard operating procedures when opening gates at the river dam. These procedures include an on-site visual inspection of the spillway area along with turning on emergency beacon lights and sounding an alarm.

The warning lights and alarm are on for approximately two to 10 minutes.

Staff opened three of the six gates on the river dam during the afternoon of Sunday, July 9, to accommodate increased river flow. Records indicate the warning lights were on and the alarm sounded during each gate opening.

The gates remained open on Monday until the utilities department was alerted by Oklahoma City police and fire officials to close them.

Prior to Sunday, the last time the river dam gates were opened was on June 10, 2022.

The gates are adjusted depending on the flow of water coming from the North Canadian River and the amount of water needed to divert to Lake Hefner for treatment.

River flows have been higher due to the large rain events over the past week.

Thousands of dams across the U.S. are in poor condition and could pose a growing threat to nearby communities as the climate changes, a USA TODAY analysis of climate and dam data found.

The dam at Lake Overholser is in one of the poorest conditions in the nation, and it will cost millions to improve.

Nearly 3,000 dams are already flagged as being in poor or unsatisfactory condition and, like Overholser, they need to be repaired or replaced.

More:Live near a dam? It could be crumbling, threatening homes and lives as heavy rains increase

At the time the analysis was made, two gates at the Overholser Dam had been inoperable since their cables broke in 2000, inspectors noted. Others are operated one by one using a portable electric motor. That motor can’t reach several central gates because its 110-volt extension cord isn’t long enough. Each gate takes hours to open.

If the dam failed during a record rainstorm, the resulting flood would endanger thousands of lives and property worth millions in the heart of the city, the analysis shows.