Yesterday the water level for Lake Texoma as reported by the US Army Corps of Engineers was 611’ above sea level. A record may soon be set for the low water level, for the last twenty years. Yet in 2007, the lake level rose to over 640 feet, going over the spillway, washing out roads and other improvements, altering wildlife habitat and spreading debris over large areas. This also occurred in 1957 and in 1990. Again in May, 2009, the lake level reached 629’, flooding roads at the Refuge, among other places around the lake, just as repairs to the 2007 damage were about to get underway.
Lake Texoma, formed by the Denison Dam on the Red River, is one of the largest reservoirs in the US. It is the 12th largest USACE lake and largest in the USACE Tulsa District. The two main sources of water for the lake are the Red and Washita Rivers as well as a number of creeks including Big Mineral where Hagerman NWR is located; the total drainage area for the lake is 39719 square miles. Denison Dam and Lake Texoma were authorized for construction by the Flood Control Act approved June 28, 1938, (Public Law 75-791) for flood control and power generation. Construction was started in August 1939 and completed in February 1944.
Why does the level vary so widely? According to B. J. Parkey, USACE, who spoke on Second Saturday at Hagerman in May, 2010, since the lake was developed for flood control, in anticipation of spring rains, the pool level is allowed to go down to approximately 615’ by spring each year. If spring rains don’t come, the level will continue to decline until sufficient rain occurs over the drainage area for the lake. The second purpose for the lake, power generation, is put on hold except for brief periods, over these dry spells.
Visitors to the Refuge will notice a greatly increased shoreline, with shorebirds on their fall migration clustering in areas where there is still some water. The USACE has issued a health warning re the bloom of blue-green algae in the lake. People and pets are to avoid contact with the water. Let’s all hope for rain soon.More information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge can be found on the official Refuge website, and Friends activities are available at www.friendsofhagerman.com. Photo, taken in 2007 by Dick Malnory, shows fishing in a flooded field beside Refuge Road near the former Visitor Center location, and Wildlife Drive inundated except for the bridge.