StateImpact Oklahoma
9:34 am
Thu March 20, 2014

Worsening Drought Exposes Host Of Other Problems For Lake Texoma Residents

Lisa Davis (right), founder of the advocacy group Save Lake Texoma, near Rooster Creek Bridge at Lake Texoma State Park.
Credit Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma
Listen to Logan Layden's story from the public meeting near Lake Texoma.

At the end of August 2013, Lake Texoma was full of water. But drought, and decisions by state and federal officials have meant a drop in levels. That’s a big problem for Kingston, Okla, a community that depends on lake tourism for its local economy.

The Rooster Creek Bridge has been landmark at Lake Texoma State Park since 1940. Yellow paint covers the metal truss structure that spans the creek as it opens into Oklahoma’s second largest lake.

When the lake’s this low, you can walk right under the bridge, past dusty mussel shells, and out to piles of rock slabs set up as fish habitats. And they’re hard to see, but Bob Jackman says there are elephants in this lake, too.

“The problem you’re facing is you’ve got some big elephants in your Lake Texoma. They’re big, wild ones,” Jackman says.

Jackman is a Tulsa geologist and water consultant who spoke to area residents at a community meeting put on by the advocacy group Save Lake Texoma in Kingston last weekend.

“One of them is the drought,” Jackman says.

Texoma is experiencing a kind of trickle-down drought effect. The lake is fed by the Red River, which flows through areas of southwest Oklahoma and northwest Texas where the drought hasn’t stopped raging, so less water is making it to the reservoir before being soaked into the riverbed.

“Then you have — also — drainage,” Jackman says. “And that’s by Southwest Power Authority. That’s one of your villains. Also the Corps of Engineers — I have caught the Corps of Engineers in so many lies it’s just unbelievable.”

That got the crowd riled up. But no one from the Corps or Southwestern Power Administration was at the meeting to defend the continued use of the lake for hydroelectric power generation — which can lower water levels by as much as three feet per month, according to the Lake Texoma Association, which is kind of like the lake’s chamber of commerce.

In a January press release, Col. Richard Pratt, commander of the Corps’ Tulsa District, says in times of drought Texoma’s significant power and water supply storage is needed or the region wouldn’t have consistent water and electricity. He says there are already power production limits in place, and if the drought gets worse, more will come.

The people at the meeting are also mad about an agreement between the governors of Texas and Oklahoma that lets towns in north Texas to take water from Oklahoma’s side of the lake:

Texoma area residents ask questions during a community meeting at Kingston High School March 15
Credit Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Another issue is the promised construction of a new resort to take the place of Lake Texoma State Park, something residents are still waiting on from the private developer, Pointe Vista.

“Five years ago they took our lodge away from us. It was a cornerstone of our tourist industry in this area,” one audience member said. “They broke the contract that said one year after they were going to take that lodge away they were going to come back with a resort. We have nothing coming out of the ground and they’re not proposing anything. And it’s killing all these businesses around here. That’s what we thrived off of.”

There’s talk of lawsuits, and bills to address all these issues. None of it is certain. For residents, joining in the county’s cleanup of the lakebed while the water is low is something they can do now, in this front line of a battle over a dwindling resource.

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