Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

These Walls: Spavinaw Watershed in Tulsa

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

These Walls: Spavinaw Watershed in Tulsa

Article excerpt

As the Spavinaw Dam neared its 85th anniversary, the city of Tulsa spent $7 million to recap its 800-foot spillway and make sure the 3,500-foot dam met modern standards.

That proved just $500,000 short of construction costs for the original Spavinaw watershed, a three-reservoir system that freed Tulsa from bottled water in 1924.

To this day, that work of William Rea Holway remains an engineering marvel. The founder of what became The Benham Group figured out how to deliver millions of gallons daily to a community more than 50 miles away using only pipes and gravity.

"We engineers love using gravity," said Tulsa Water Supply Manager Robert Brownwood. "That is a pretty remarkable feat."

More than half his budget went to Tulsa manufacturers of the pipe - which was so hard to move, W.R. Holway had to build railroad and telephone lines paralleling the pipeline's path just to get the 60- inch and 84-inch tubes in place.

The descent required the engineer to figure out how to get the descending pipeline across five railroads and an assortment of canyons, creeks and rivers.

But his biggest challenges came from the political arena, where the whole problem started.

As the black gold rush turned Tulsa into a boom town, city leaders struggled to find a source of cheap, plentiful water - a direct challenge to Charles Page, one of Oklahoma's wealthiest men, who controlled not only millions in oil wells but the Sand Springs Bottling Co., one of the area's prime sources of fresh water. When wells proved unreliable and the Arkansas River too salty, Tulsa leaders decided to build a dam.

Page not only proposed one for land he owned at Shell Creek, he built it with his own funds. But when the philanthropist's water supply system proved unable to meet several orders, as Tulsa Historical Society records demonstrate, opponents pressed their Spavinaw option.

As Tulsa water consumption hit 50,000 five-gallon bottles a week, the political battle pitted Page's Tulsa Democrat newspaper against Eugene Lorton's Tulsa World. Voters picked Spavinaw, approving a $5 million bond issue to build a system employing five pumping stations, but the state Supreme Court overturned the deal. …

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