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Can the Great Salt Plains Lake be saved?

Drought taking a toll on northwest Oklahoma lake
BY RYAN SHELTON, For The Oklahoman Modified: July 21, 2012 at 9:28 pm •  Published: July 21, 2012
/articleid/3694510/1/pictures/1779698">Photo - Dead carp and drum just below the spillway of the Great Salt Plains Lake in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by Ryan Shelton
Dead carp and drum just below the spillway of the Great Salt Plains Lake in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by Ryan Shelton

The fish have spawned and fingerlings have been discovered both in the lake and below, but with the carp kill-off, it would appear those fish are next.

There are three ways to fix the problem, Stahl said. First the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could open the dam and let the water flow downstream, essentially turning it into a river again. This would depend on the two tributaries continually feeding it, not a guarantee.

Second they could dig out the silt in the reservoir. At 160 acres, Stahl figures it would cost anywhere from $5 to $10 million. He likened this option's feasibility to a feat rivaled only by raising the pyramids at Giza. Finally, the dam could just be plugged, raising the reservoir level.

According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the fishery will continue to silt in.

“As far as restoring the lake, there's really no feasible solution,” said Cathy Carlson, Canton Lake Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Eventually the lake will turn into a wetlands if no actions are taken.”

Carlson said a nonfederal partner must step in by law to help pay for a restoration, something she doesn't foresee.

“The lake is performing completely as designed for flood control,” she said. “Lakes silt in. This lake is silting in faster than most.”

Despite listing alternative solutions, the report states that the fishery will most likely cease to be. The fish kill will affect more than just the anglers.

Thousands of visitors flock to the wetlands each year to watch birds, including the endangered interior least tern, which makes its nest there.

“The birds need the fish,” Stahl said. “When the fish go, so will the birds.”


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