DURANT — The Lake Texoma Association hosted a community meeting on Friday in Durant with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Southwest Power Administration to address growing concerns over the low water levels in Lake Texoma and the ongoing drought that the region faces.
“The purpose of this meeting is to share information,” said LTA President Rick Lane.
The meeting, featured presentations from the three organizations regarding their operations on the lake, and possible future scenarios that the lake could face, based on different amounts of rain in the lake’s watershed.
“We are here to talk about the drought, really, and how we operate the lake,” Col. Richard A. Pratt, who represented the Tulsa District of the USACE, said at the beginning of his presentation.
Pratt presented a graph with historic rainfall records through the history of the lake. Pratt said the region historically would see 10 years of drought followed by another decade of heavy rainfall. Texoma sits in the third year of one of these period, with two of the past three years among the lowest inflows into the lake in its history.
“When people ask what is the solution, my solution is rain,” said Pratt.
Pratt attempted to keep the ongoing situation in perspective, highlighting the status of other lakes within the region. He said that Lake Maurica, which also sits on the Red River, is at 25 percent of its capacity. Lake Texoma is at 69 percent.
“This is not the worst it has been,” said Pratt, referring to the drought in the late 1950s, which saw the lake reach the lowest levels it has been since its creation in the 1930s. Within the same year, the lake went from drought stages to flood control as late rains brought the lake to its capacity.
“I don’t think this is the new norm,” said Pratt.
Pratt mentioned four primary ‘users’ of the lake and its water: hydroelectric power from the Denison Dam, drinking water from Texoma municipalities and the North Texas Municipal Water District, and Mother Nature herself in the form of evaporation.
Fritha Ohlson, director of the SWPA Division of Resources and Rates, represented the power administration at the meeting. SHE explained how it operates on Texoma. Ohlson said the SWPA is not designed to generate profit, with its prices based on cost, with additional funding paid back to the federal government for operation of the Lake Texoma Project. SWPA provides power to over 100 large-scale customers including 21 power cooperatives and about 80 municipalities. Most of the customers are outside the Texoma area.
For the past 39 months, Ohlson reported that the SWPA has been in a pattern of manually reduced generation, with 29 months at less than half its average generation. The administration generated less than 25 percent its average in 2013, with an average of two hours of production a day, making it its lowest year for generation since its inception in the 1940s.
As the production at Lake Texoma decreases, Ohlson said customers would be need to get power from other, more costly, sources.
Shelly Morgan, executive director of the LTA, used her presentation to inform the public about the petition that the LTA created, urging law makers to change federal laws on the usage of Lake Water. Morgan said the petition asks that Drought Control be added as an official purpose of the lake, granting protection to the lake and limiting uses during drought conditions, including municipal and power generation. Under current regulations, the SWPA is allowed to operate until the lake reaches an altitude of 590 feet. As of Friday, the lake was at 608 feet.
“They are actually doing us a big favor,” said Morgan, referring to the SWPA’s voluntary conservation measures.
The meeting concluded with questions for the presenters from the audience. While the LTA only had time for a few questions, Morgan said that all questions and answers would be posted on the LTA’s website, located at http://www.laketexomaonline.com.
Among the questions that were asked were questions regarding the power generation on Lake Texoma after the Panda Power Plant goes online and the possibility of major dredging operations in the lake. Ohlson that the Panda Plant did not affect the operations on Lake Texoma, as it is owned and operated by an outside entity. Pratt said the USACE has given permits for minor dredging efforts around marinas, but that large-scale dredging was outside the capacity of the USACE.