BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Annie Edson Taylor was a schoolteacher and, like many Oklahoma schoolteachers, was required to rely on other sources of income to make ends meet. Ms. Taylor was resourceful and imaginative. So much so that on her 63rd birthday, she tried to secure her financial future and avoid the poorhouse by becoming the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Ms. Taylor’s feat took place in 1901. Fortunately today, parents and grandparents who are nearing their 63rd birthdays are counting the months until they will become Medicare eligible and begin drawing their Social Security. Annie Edson Taylor did not have that option as the partisan fights surrounding Social Security was more than three decades away and the goal of attaining a universal health care system for America’s retirees was not realized until President Johnson’s similar struggle in the 1960s.
On Oct. 24, 1901, Ms. Taylor’s custom made oak and iron barrel with a mattress inside was put in the water near Goat Island, above the falls. She climbed in and the barrel was sealed and then a bicycle pump was used to compress the air inside. The drop was more than 188 feet and the water volume over the falls was nearly 225,000 cubic feet per second and Ms. Taylor succeeded with only a small gash on her head.
Today, the peak flow of Niagara Falls is just over 100,000 cubic feet per second and it is ironic that the power and majesty of the water flow over those majestic falls is dwarfed by the water in Oklahoma’s watersheds in recent several weeks. In fact, water being released from just a single Oklahoma reservoir, Keystone Lake is exceeding the flow from Niagara Falls. Officials recently announced that the flow would be increased from 80,000 cubic feet per second to 160,000 cfs, the equivalent of 1.6 million gallon jugs of water per second.
On the Friday before Memorial Day, the Corps of Engineers announced that the flow had been increased to 250,000 cfs and the morning Memorial Day the flow was increased to 275,000 cfs, or nearly three times the peak flow of the powerful Niagara.
Despite the dangers and devastation, the situation could have been much worse if another political struggle had not occurred in the mid-1930s. One of the many infrastructure programs promoted by the Franklin Roosevelt Administration was a system of Soil and Water Conservation districts.
While many conservative and right wing groups attacked it as socialistic and unaffordable, legislation was passed that enabled Oklahoma to participate in the program beginning in 1937. Over the past 82 years, countless lives, homes, and other properties have been saved, not to mention the benefits that have inured to Oklahoma’s soil.
Today, Oklahoma has 2,107 small watershed upstream flood control structures – more than any other state. Oklahoma has always been a leader in flood control, beginning with the construction of the first flood control dam in the nation in 1948.
Additional federal flood control legislation, also opposed by conservatives as socialistic, gave rise to a network of Corps of Engineers projects on Oklahoma’s larger rivers that continue to save lives, property and provide Oklahomans with critical recreational revenues.
Programs like these benefit all Oklahomans everyday including in times of natural disaster. Programs like Social Security and Medicare benefit Oklahomans everyday on a personal level helping them with health concerns and keeping them from suffering abject poverty.
They also keep our retirees from performing stunts like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House and serves as minority floor leader