As boating season approaches, drought conditions and historically low inflow at Lake Texoma have left business owners and recreational users watching and waiting.

As boating season approaches, drought conditions and historically low inflow at Lake Texoma have left business owners and recreational users watching and waiting.


With drought conditions expected to continue and with Texoma predicted to experience a dry spring in 2014, many residents and lake-side businesses are looking for causes, beyond the drought, for the drop in water levels. Concerns surround the Denison Dam and its continued generation of power throughout the ongoing drought.


Lake Texoma was originally envisioned in the late 1930s as a flood-control project and as a source for hydroelectric energy. Over time, as the region and neighboring areas experienced growth, use as a municipal water supply was added as one of the primary goals for the lake. Despite recent growth in recreation, that use does not maintain the same level of government protection as the power generation, flood control and water supply.


In 2013, the inflow from the nearly 40,000 square miles of catchment area that feed into the lake reached a record low since the lake’s creation. This combined with record evaporation, which can total up to five to six feet during an average year, and prolonged, region-wide drought conditions have taxed the water levels of the lake conservation pool. That pool currently sits at an elevation just over 608 feet.


"We are praying for rain," said Ross Hatkins with the Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which maintains the lake. "That is going to be the real answer. Until Mother Nature decides to cooperate, it will be a tough road ahead."


In February, the Lake Texoma Association started a petition to prompt federal officials to add water conservation and drought control as project purposes for Lake Texoma. The LTA will host a meeting at Durant High School with the Army Corps of Engineers and Southwestern Power Administration to discuss the ongoing concerns.


LTA Executive Director Shelly Morgan said she doesn’t intend for people to go "cold or thirsty," but recreational assets around Lake Texoma deserve the same protection as other project purposes. Morgan said Southwest Power Administration has power generation assets elsewhere, and isn’t reliant on the lake. However, because marinas and other businesses are reliant on the lake, they should get priority when it comes to protection.


As Lake Texoma experienced record-low inflow in 2013, the Southwest Power Administration had its lowest year of power generation since the completion of the Denison Dam in 1943.


"I know there is a perception that we generate a lot, but the reality is we are barely using the project," said Beth Nielsen, public affairs officer for the SWPA, which owns power generation rights on lake Texoma.


Compared to average yearly use, in 2013, the plant was in operation 20 percent of the time it normally would be active in an average year, said Neilsen. This trend is continuing into 2014. The plant was only in operation for about four hours during the first week of March, said Neilsen. Despite this, Neilsen estimates that it would cost the SWPA $18 million to acquire the energy the plant produces from other sources.


Tom McGraph, power plant specialist for the Denison Dam, described the Lake Texoma hydroelectric plant as a "peaking power source." Given the nature of hydro-electric power and its speed in coming into full operation, the power plant is used to supplement other sources of energy during peek hours of power generation.


While some still lay blame at SWPA for the reduction of water levels, others remain optimistic for the future at Lake Texoma. A reoccurring sentiment mirrored by many marina owners and operators is that, despite the current water worries, the businesses around the lake are still open, ready for business.


Jo Melbourne, administrator for Texoma Destinations, which runs two marinas on the lake, said the low water levels have given them a chance to do some maintenance that high waters would not normally allow. This includes removing exposed stumps from the lake bed and cleaning up the exposed beaches. Despite the growing beachfront, Melborne said spring break season is off to a good start. "People are not being held back," she said. "Kids are in the water even if it is cold."


"We are so fortunate compared to other lakes," she said, referring to conditions at other Texas lakes. "We don’t want people to overreact."


Likewise, workers at Grandpappy Point Marina have been taking the opportunity to clean exposed areas, including routine dredging which will help boats pass freely out of the marina during times of low water levels.


Trey Albright, manager at Cedar Bayou Marina, said he has heard many rumors about the cause of the low water, ranging from a plan by the USACE to permanently drain the lake to a temporary drain for maintenance purposes. On the Cedar Bayou website, a message was posted by staff, in bold lettering, states that rumors of intentional drainage are completely false.


"We get to hear all the crazy rumors," said Albright.


Albright said he has made it a point to clear up any rumors he hears about the situation at the lake. Albright recalled a meeting with a customer, last week, who claimed the lake had fallen about five feet since she had last been there a week prior, when in reality the levels had remained steady. Albright said he feels if he hadn’t corrected her, yet another rumor might have started spreading.


"We want to make sure people understand that the lake is open for business," said Terry Scott, president and general manager of Highport Marina. "The reality is that there are are areas with more shoreline, and the islands are bigger, but the lake is still deep." Scott said he believes that social media has played a part in the spread of misinformation and scaring people.


Eisenhower State Park Superintendent Paul Kisel said he hasn’t seen much of an impact from the low water on attendance this early in the season. "We had a record year last year," said Kisel, referring to park attendance. "What we need is Mother Nature to help us out." Despite the ongoing worries about lake levels and dry boat ramps, Kisel said a recent survey showed that the Eisenhower ramp was the deepest on the Texas side of the lake.


"We are blessed to be at the deep end of the lake," said Kisel.


Others however are not so fortunate. Jennifer Skinner, co-owner of Walnut Creek Marina, said the low waters are killing business, trapping boats in the marina and leaving boathouses sitting in mud. Outside of marina income, Skinner said, the drought has affected other parts of business, including gas sales, because boaters simply cannot enter the marina due to obstructions that were exposed by the low water.


"We’ve put up with floods, but this is the worst," said Skinner. "I’m praying that there is a big storm with lots of rain."