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  • Writer's pictureEben Lee Hall

Lake Texoma

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Lake Texoma is one of the largest reservoirs in the United States, the 12th largest US Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) lake, and the largest in USACE Tulsa District.[1] Lake Texoma is formed by Denison Dam on the Red River in Bryan County, Oklahoma, and Grayson County, Texas, about 726 miles (1,168 km) upstream from the mouth of the river. It is located at the confluence of the Red and Washita Rivers. The project was completed in 1944. The damsite is about 5 miles (8.0 km) northwest of Denison, Texas, and 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Durant, Oklahoma. Lake Texoma is the most developed and most popular lake within the USACE Tulsa District, attracting around 6 million visitors a year. Oklahoma has more of the lake within its boundaries than Texas.

Lake Texoma's two main sources are the Red River from the west and Washita River from the north. Other notable sources include Big Mineral Creek, Little Mineral Creek, Buncombe Creek, Rock Creek, and Glasses Creek. Lake Texoma drains into the Red River at the Denison Dam.

Normal elevation of the conservation pool varies from 615 to 619 ft (187 to 189 m) National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD) depending on the time of year. The flood control pool extends to elevation 645 ft (197 m) NGVD. The lake has crested the dam's spillway at a height of 640 ft (200 m) five times: once in 1957, again in 1990, 2007, May 24, 2015, and most recently on June 18, 2015. (USACE 2003a) The lake's previously highest elevation was recorded on May 6, 1990, at 644.76 feet. This record was broken on May 29, 2015, and the lake crested on June 1, 2015, at a new record elevation of 645.72 feet. The top of Denison Dam is at 670 feet.

The Red River that formed Lake Texoma is a saltwater river due to salt deposits left over from a 250 million year old former sea that was in the current Texas-Oklahoma border region. As time passed, that sea evaporated, leaving salt deposits — mostly sodium chloride. Rock and silt eventually buried the deposits, but the salt continues to leech through natural seeps in tributaries above Lake Texoma, sending as much as 3,450 tons of salt per day flowing down the Red River. The problem with the water in the Red River is much of it is too salty and requires costly treatment, if it is usable at all. Due to this phenomenon striped bass, a saltwater fish, thrive in Lake Texoma. Lake Texoma is home to the only self-sustaining population of striped bass in Texas.

Lake Texoma is situated on the border between the states of Oklahoma and Texas in the Oklahoma counties of Bryan, Marshall, Johnston, and Love, and the Texas counties of Grayson and Cooke. It has a surface area of 93,000 acres (360 km²), a conservation water volume of 2,525,568 acre⋅ft (3.115242 km3), and a flood-control volume of 5,194,163 acre⋅ft (6.406906 km3).

Notable cities surrounding the lake in Texas are Denison, Sherman, and Gainesville. In Oklahoma, the most notable city is Durant.

Other towns and cities near the lake in Bryan County, Oklahoma, include Cartwright, Colbert, Calera, Platter, and Mead. In Marshall County, Oklahoma, Madill and Kingston are the nearest cities with many notable communities near the lake including Enos, Little City, Cumberland, Kingston, Woodville, McBride, Willis, and the unsubmerged portion of Aylesworth. Most of Aylesworth was submerged under the water of the lake. Other towns and cities in Texas include Gordonville, Locust, Fink, Pottsboro, and Preston.

Several small islands on Lake Texoma are accessible only by means of water transportation. Some of the island names include, in order from west to east, West Island, Wood Island, Hog Island, Treasure Island, Little Island, and North Island.

Lake Texoma features two state parks and 54 USACE-managed parks. The northern and southern reaches of the lake each terminate within a national wildlife refuge.

Lake Texoma has grown in importance over the decades from primarily relief from annual flooding and destruction to an employment engine for the area, and finally a recreation mecca for the Nation.

Mr. George Moulton who some consider the father of the Denison Dam was a Denison businessman who dreamed of placing a dam on the Red River at Baer’s Ferry as early as 1925. He began lobbying and talking to Chambers of Commerce in Denison and Durant in the late 1920s. Sam Rayburn joined the dream team in the early 1930s and was instrumental in the legislative process of making the great lake a reality.

The Flood Control Act of 1938 (Public Law No. 761, 75th Congress, 3rd Session) authorized funding for the Denison dam, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set up the Denison District Office in June of that year. The first Commander was Captain Lucius D. Clay.

Lake Texoma was constructed during WWII. German prisoners of war were involved in the construction of the dam and were the first POWs to be used in a labor camp. These prisoners were from Rommel’s Afrika Korps and were housed in camps at Tishomingo and Powell, Oklahoma. Later, the Tishomingo POWs were housed in another camp at the spillway. Only non-war related work could be performed by POWs according to the Geneva Convention – such as clearing trees for the proposed lake and light construction. Construction projects performed by the prisoners included mortared stone lining of the drainage ditches around the damsite, which are still present today.

Construction of the dam was completed in January 1944 at a cost of $54 million. The installation of the two generators was completed in September 1949. Initially Lake Texoma was authorized for flood control, hydropower and water supply. Recreation was not officially added as a project purpose by Congress until 1988.

The management of the lands around Lake Texoma was turned over to the National Park Service in 1946 and they continued until 1949 when both agencies decided that the NPS would move out and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would take over the operations and maintenance responsibilities. The National Park Service was always a reluctant partner in this arrangement and finally removed themselves from Texoma in 1949.

Lake Texoma has crested the spillway (640’ elevation).

The lake attracted worldwide media attention in June 2015 when water was drained following a flood, causing a vortex with 2.5-m-wide hole to form.

Diverse recreational opportunities include two wildlife refuges, two state parks, 54 USACE-managed parks, 12 marinas, 26 resorts, hundreds of campgrounds, and a variety of golf courses. Power boating, sailing, personal watercraft, water skiing, and wind surfing are all popular. The lake has become a major sailing center based on its size, depth, and miles of sailing shoreline.

During the spring break and Fourth of July holidays, many college students home for the holidays gather in an area called "Fobb Bottom" on the Oklahoma side.

Lake Texoma is also home to the Lakefest Regatta, widely considered to be the first inland charity regatta in the United States. The event typically attracts up to 100 keelboats and more than 500 sailors each spring. Since its inception, Lakefest has raised more than $2 million in support of various children’s charities in North Texas. The current beneficiary is the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of North Texas.

Former professional funny car race driver "Flash" Gordon Mineo organized many "poker run" events on Lake Texoma. Gordon and his wife, Ann Mineo, along with three others, died September 2, 2006, in a boating accident on Lake Texoma.

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