Walking levees, making gates changes to adjust water levels, taking piezometer readings to see how much pressure is on the dam, or touching up posts with a fresh coat of yellow paint are just a few of the tasks required for a pair of park rangers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District's Elk City Lake, near Independence, Kansas.
The pair are currently working 12-hour shifts as teams across the region help the district respond to historic flooding brought on by weeks of relentless heavy rainfall across the district. Working to reduce flood impacts to communities is something Barb Busenbarrick understands all too well. The flood waters reached her garage and forced her to grab her camper and head toward one of the Corps' campsites temporarily so she could avoid the flood waters and be able to get to work. While the water blocked her access to her house, she still managed to put on her uniform and work her 12-hour shift.
The park rangers are committed to doing what is necessary to ensure the infrastructure at Elk City Lake does what it is supposed to do - protect people. Speaking about the water management of the system of dams in southern Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, Busenbarrick said it is all about public safety. She said the primary purpose of these lakes is for flood risk management. "I know recreation is being impacted and that people miss that," she said, "but the dams are [flood risk management] projects that will reduce flooding. Even though we have had some flooding downstream, it could have been a lot worse." She added that the structures at Elk City Lake are performing well, as they are designed to do during these types of events.
With their yards becoming tiny jungles of grass and a chore list piling up, the park rangers understand that working long hours during this historic flood event is necessary. Elk City Lake Park Ranger Allen Zylstra said a lot of the things he needs to take care of at home are not happening because of the work requirements, but he said he understands the mission requires it. He said each team is working long hours, away from our families, to make sure all of the infrastructure does what it is designed to do with a goal of keeping everyone safe. "We are all willing to be here for the betterment of the community," he said.