Replacing the old Zink Dam with a new one, Tulsans will soon get a chance to experience Zink Lake - a voter-approved $48 million amenity that will revolutionize the way people experience the Arkansas River near Gathering Place.
For decades, Tulsans had no safe access to the Arkansas River near the old pedestrian bridge, which in recent years fell into a state of disrepair. The old Zink Dam, which was located near the old pedestrian bridge, was constructed in 1982, with its gates becoming inoperable over time. For this reason, and with an opportunity to create a dam that would allow for recreational opportunities in the Arkansas River, the decision was made to create a new Zink Dam that paved the way for Zink Lake.
Following voter approval, the construction of Zink Dam and Zink Lake commenced in October 2020. Set to open concurrently, Zink Lake will open alongside the new pedestrian bridge, Williams Crossing, that was also approved by voters through the Vision Tulsa sales tax package. More information on Williams Crossing can be found online.
CH2MHill is the engineering design consultant for the project and Crossland Construction is the contractor.
Completion of Zink Dam and Zink Lake is expected to occur in fall 2023, though the lake will not immediately open.
Zink Lake will open Labor Day 2024, which will coincide with the opening of the new pedestrian bridge, Williams Crossing.
The total project cost is $48 million. The construction of Zink Dam and Zink Lake was approved by Tulsa voters through the Vision Tulsa sales tax package.
The new dam will have significant structural changes that include added gates, a stairstep design and work to remove a dangerous undertow. The pool depth will be increased to 10 feet. The project also will include a 1,050-foot-long recreational flume along the east bank of the river south of the new pedestrian bridge. The flume will have seven drops or pools where visitors can access the water. Another important part of this project is stabilization of the east bank of the Arkansas River near Gathering Place. Ultimately, Zink Dam will provide the infrastructure for the creation of Zink Lake, which will be approximately 2.5 miles long.
Unlike the old Zink Dam which had limited access to the waterfront, the new Zink Dam will provide visitors the opportunity to be right next to the water in Zink Lake. There will be designed plazas and walkways so people using River Parks trails can easily access those amenities.
The lake’s programming and operations are subject to an operations agreement with River Parks Authority – an agreement that is currently being worked on. It is expected that recreational opportunities will include things like canoes and non-motorized watercraft. Water depth will also have the capacity to accommodate rowing events. Other water activities are subject to discussion after water testing protocols and guidance procedures are developed.
Before Zink Lake opens, the City of Tulsa will release a regular testing protocol and reporting methodology in coordination with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ). This protocol and methodology will be used to develop a stormwater quality plan for the lake. Visitors can use these findings to make decisions about their participation in water activities.
Water testing already occurs in the Arkansas River as part of the City’s stormwater quality permit through sampling. Sampling takes place at the point the water enters Tulsa near 81st West Avenue in West Tulsa and near Harmony Bridge (Bixby Bridge). Samples are conducted monthly and measure bacteria, as well as other parameters, at a specific point in the river at a specific point in time. While sampling has its place in helping determine water quality during certain points of time in certain areas, the specific sampling happening right now does not give officials an idea of the water quality near Zink Lake. For this reason, the City is working with ODEQ to develop a monitoring program that will provide water quality information for Zink Lake and will work to make that information publicly accessible.
Sampling must take place when the dam is complete (fall 2023) and the gates are up to get a better idea of the water quality in the lake. With an expected completion date of fall 2023, Zink Dam/Lake will have testing and protocol methodology development before anyone is allowed to recreate.
Water sampling results in the Arkansas River have met and exceeded State water quality standards. Bacteria levels seen are consistent with statewide assessments on other water bodies.
In addition to developing a regular testing protocol and reporting methodologies for that testing, Zink's recreational flume will have portable aerators available to help circulate water when needed, in addition to potable water systems (three hydrants) used for washing down rocks, etc. when needed.
The new Zink Dam will also greatly improve water flow along the Arkansas River when compared to the old dam – another reason for improved water quality. The old dam had only three 50-foot gates, which comprised about 12.5 percent of the width of the river. Because the gates at the deepest points didn’t reach the bottom, stagnant water below those gates oftentimes never was given the ability to be flushed out and aerated, resulting in fish kills and decreased water quality. The new Zink Dam will have more than 50 percent of the width of the river covered with gates to allow water flow, with a third of those gates having the ability to lay all the way down.
Another measure to improve water quality is work being done with H.F. Sinclair, an energy company with operations just west of the Arkansas River. H.F. Sinclair is currently working to comply with ODEQ requirements ahead of the opening of Zink Lake. The company is spending $10-15 million to comply with those requirements through various measures, one of which includes the installation of a containment cap.
The City of Tulsa remains in regular communications surrounding municipalities and ODEQ on best water quality practices in the Arkansas River.
Some of the best water quality practices that cities use are through maintaining stormwater quality permits. Maintaining these permits helps municipalities improve water quality throughout the city. Though the City of Tulsa already has practices in place to meet its current stormwater quality permit, it is gearing up to receive and comply with a new stormwater quality discharge permit. That new permit will prescribe additional water sampling, not only in Tulsa’s feeder streams, but also in the Arkansas River – an effort that will be used to improve water quality in Zink Lake.
The City of Tulsa also has a Stormwater Education Program that it uses to educate the public and industrial owners and/or operators on their responsibility to reduce the pollution in stormwater runoff. More information on that program and stormwater quality in Tulsa can be found online.