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Oklahoma lakes tell different stories as Memorial Day weekend arrives

The state’s outdoor recreation season hits its unofficial starting point this weekend, and western Oklahoma sees low lake levels while eastern Oklahoma reports the opposite.
by Silas Allen Modified: May 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm •  Published: May 22, 2014


photo - Angler Joe Myers stands in the reddish silt that until recent years was the bottom of Canton Lake. Myers had been casting in a shallow strip of water near the dam on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, when this photo was taken. He says the water depth where he is standing should be between 8 and 10 feet when the lake is at its normal levels. A sustained drought combined with the release of millions of gallons of water downstream to Oklahoma City in 2013 has caused large sections of the lake to dry up and has extended the lake's shoreline by hundreds of feet.   Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Angler Joe Myers stands in the reddish silt that until recent years was the bottom of Canton Lake. Myers had been casting in a shallow strip of water near the dam on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, when this photo was taken. He says the water depth where he is standing should be between 8 and 10 feet when the lake is at its normal levels. A sustained drought combined with the release of millions of gallons of water downstream to Oklahoma City in 2013 has caused large sections of the lake to dry up and has extended the lake's shoreline by hundreds of feet. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Joe Myers smiled broadly as he stood on the bank of Canton Lake this week, pulling his fishing hook out of the mouth of a sand bass.

If Myers had tried to stand in the same spot a few years ago, he’d have been more than 10 feet under water.

For people like Myers, who enjoy fishing, or those who can’t wait to take their boat out on the lake, the arrival of Memorial Day weekend means the unofficial start of the state’s outdoor recreation season.

While officials at lakes across the state report a full range of activities will be available, such as boating and fishing, they sing a different tune when it comes to describing the water levels at those lakes.

Park managers in eastern Oklahoma report lakes with normal or above-normal water levels, while those on the western side of Interstate 35 point to the drought and its lingering effects.

Myers, of Crescent, has been coming to Canton Lake to fish off and on for about 25 years, he said. Although he’s watched the lake rise and fall over the years, the 71-year-old said he’s never seen water levels dip as low as they are now.

The water level at Canton Lake was nearly 13 feet below normal this week, leaving some boat ramps out of the water and buoys sitting on dry land.

At some lakes in eastern Oklahoma, the opposite is the case.

“We’re fortunate to have good lake levels,” said Jim Miller, park manager at Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow in far southeastern Oklahoma. “It’s really in good condition.”

Miller said Thursday the water level at Lake Broken Bow is three feet above normal, and RV sites and cabins are full as visitors prepare for the long weekend.

Lake Eufaula park manager Sue Hughart said that lake’s level also is above normal.

According to figures provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Eufaula was 0.3 feet above normal this week.

Hughart said the park’s RV sites would likely be full Thursday, and that officials are expecting a good crowd for the long weekend, noting how last May’s severe storms kept some Oklahoma City-area visitors from traveling to the park.

“I suspect we will have people who didn’t get to come last year,” she said.

Meanwhile, at Canton Lake, low levels have persisted since Oklahoma City officials drew 30,000 acre-feet of water from the lake in late January and early February 2013.

That water was meant to replenish the water supply at Lake Hefner, which was dwindling after two years of drought. That move came over the protests of Canton Lake-area residents, who asked city officials to wait until after spring rains ended to draw water.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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