Low levels at Lake Texoma blamed on drought, out-dated law

Last updated: January 17. 2014 3:05PM - 3159 Views
By Zach Maxwell Staff Writer

Lake Texoma has dropped to it's lowest level in decades.
Lake Texoma has dropped to it's lowest level in decades.
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As Lake Texoma’s shoreline continues to recede, those with interests on the lake are chiming in by urging lawmakers to change the legal status of the man-made reservoir.

An extended drought coupled with legally mandated hydropower and municipal water usage have caused the level of the lake to drop close to 609 feet - the lowest in decades.

Experts say the upstream basin is expected to remain in drought status through February, meaning the situation is likely to worsen. Any change in the law to allow for a higher pool elevation to accommodate recreation would likely be years away.

But the lake is still open for business and only in stage two of a four-stage drought contingency plan.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” said Shelly Morgan, Executive Director of the Lake Texoma Association. “We want to make sure everybody knows we’re still open for business.”

But the falling lake is creating problems for marina owners, who must move boat docks in response to shifting shorelines. Morgan also pointed to newly exposed sandbars and other “hazards we’re not used to dealing with.”

Many have taken to social media to voice concerns, as well as urging the LTA to draft a proposal to Oklahoma and Texas congressional leaders to consider changing Public Law 100-71.

“The law is somewhat vague,” Morgan said. “We’d like to get more teeth put into the law so the Corps of Engineers has more power to manage the lake level. But changing the law is not something that happens quickly.”

Boaters and marina managers have witnessed a steady fall since November. The ongoing drought, mainly upstream on the Red and Washita rivers, could exacerbate the problem.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the following press release Thursday under the title “Lake Texoma experiencing negative impacts of long-term drought.”


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District (USACE) and The Southwestern Power Administration (SWPA) acknowledge the negative impacts associated with reduced water levels at Lake Texoma. Hydropower and municipal and industrial water supply usage contribute to the lower level, but remain critical in meeting electricity and water needs.

Factors contributing to the lowering lake levels include a multi-year extreme drought with the lowest inflows since the lake’s construction in 1944, below average rainfall since 2009, and significant evaporation losses for the past few years. The current water level is in the range of elevation 609 feet, placing the lake in Drought Level 2 of the district’s Drought Contingency Plan.

“Lake Texoma has significant power and water supply storage that is congressionally authorized for use and paid for by the users,” said Col. Richard Pratt, commander, USACE Tulsa District. “In times of drought, this storage is required to consistently provide water and electricity to the region and this results in a lower lake level. The entities that have water contract agreements with the Corps have a right to their water, and we all acknowledge that fact while emphasizing conservation to limit the long-lasting negative effects on fish, wildlife, and recreational activities.” The Corps realizes that the low pool elevation of Lake Texoma negatively impacts recreational users. Boaters can expect more water hazards and sand bars. Larger vessels may have difficulty navigating in marina concession areas, and all vessels may experience extremely shallow water conditions in various locations of the lake. Vessels equipped with a depth finder are strongly encouraged to monitor the water depth. As always, the Corps recommends that all boaters wear a life jacket.

Concerned citizens contacted Ralph Hall, U.S. Representative for Texas’ 4th District, about Lake Texoma’s dropping elevation, and Congressman Hall in turn contacted Tulsa District about these concerns. The Corps, SWPA and Hall are working together to increase the efficient management of Lake Texoma’s water storage. “Throughout my years in public service, I have had a good working relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers and hold great respect for them due to their knowledge, adherence to the law, and willingness to work collaboratively in order to best serve the American people,” said Hall. “I appreciate the Corps’ efforts on this issue, and I will continue to stay engaged with them as we work to help the people of Texoma during these difficult times of drought. We owe it to the good folks of Texoma to work together and be supportive of efforts that work towards maximum appreciation and use of this great body of water - one of the great lakes of our nation.”

In Drought Level 2, Public Law 100-71 requires that SWPA limit power production to rapid response, short term peaking purposes as determined by the power scheduling entity. Short term peaking generally means full power production of 4-8 hours per day on average, with more generation allowed during electrical emergencies. The Corps has coordinated with SWPA to reduce generation accordingly, with calendar year 2013 being the lowest generation year at Lake Texoma since hydropower operations began in 1945. Such a reduction in power production requires replacement power from more expensive energy sources to meet the region’s electricity needs. The Corps also notifies municipal and industrial water users to implement water conservation measures designed to lessen the impact of their withdrawals. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for the period ending Feb. 28, 2014, indicates that the drought affecting the Lake Texoma watershed will persist or intensify. If the lake’s level drops into the range of elevation 607-599.9 feet, Lake Texoma will enter Drought Level 3 which requires a number of actions emphasizing conservation to limit the impacts associated with long-term drought, among them notification to SWPA of further restrictions of hydropower production.

Tulsa District remains committed to the efficient management of the water stored in Lake Texoma for the purposes of flood risk management, hydropower, water supply, fish and wildlife, recreation, and navigation. The Corps’ website provides water level information on the Water Control Data System page at http://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/

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