Oklahoma Lakes — Terraforming Dessert into Oasis

Posted By: 'Okie' | 2:14 pm — 7/15/2005 | 1 Comment See comments below:

Well, that headline’s a bit of an exaggeration, but in answer to Mark Tapscott’s question about his perceiving a bit of climate change during his latest journey back to the homeland, I think he’s probably correct. From my own personal observation about my first years on our farm outside Collinsville, OK, in 1954 until I left the state in 1983, I saw plenty of anecdotal “evidence” to back up that assertion.

In my early childhood, our place would be really hot and dry during the summers. The grass in the yards would brown out in late July and stay that way until the mid-Sept. rains would green it up again. I remember often seeing the little “horny” toads, so different from the frog-like amphibians that later became prevalent, and that Doug TenNapel is “farming” out in Glendale. As the years passed, and “hot & dry” gave over to “hot & humid”, the horned toads disappeared and more aquatic based species thrived.

By the mid-fifties, Oklahoma was well into its lake making. WPA projects like the Grand River Dam near Ketchum had created the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, a beautiful deep water reservoir with privately owned lake-front property. My folks owned a cabin on this lake until I was about 6 year old, and I have managed to retain a few fond memories from there, and a couple of not-so-fond ones. (Don’t let your mom trip over your fishing line while you’re baiting the hook. A barbed hook under the thumbnail doesn’t fee so great goin’ in, and with your hand held down and pliers at the ready, it really doesn’t fee good at all coming out!) But what fishing there was! At least as I was told — just can’t remember much . . . can vaguely pull up an image of a fish as big as me. Wow! That was terrifying, I gotta tell ya.

My dad made his own contribution to OK humidification by damming up a creek on our property to create a small lake, and then deepening the other major creek running through our pecan-laden “bottom land” by building a spillway using the foundation and step stones from the old First Baptist Church — torn down to make way for the needs of a growing congregation. I spent many a summer’s hours sitting on those old stones, fishing, and “feeling” the ambiance of all those past souls that had worshiped within the walls that had been built upon them. Funny — have never before thought about it quite that way until just as I wrote this, but it always did feel more than a little spiritual in just that part of our place, with this “crossing” nestled down deep between the high creek beds, a transition from our most-often worked part of the orchard to the more wild, and lesser known, darker, deeper — more native forest.

But the great state of Oklahoma and the Federal Government were developing the real projects that turned northeastern Oklahoma into “Green Country”: the aforementioned Grand Lake of the Cherokees, Lakes Oologah, Spavinaw, Tenkiller, Hudson, Skiatook, Hulah, Ft. Gibson, Keystone, Eufaula — all major lakes, several placed sequentially on the same river. Also, most of these are hydro-electric, serving the needs for the electric co-operatives serving rural Oklahoma. I’ve either fished or camped at all of them except for the newish Lake Skiatook, which was created after my move to California in 1983.

Of course, there wouldn’t be nearly as many trees in the Oklahoma City area, or many other parts of the state for that matter, if it hadn’t been for arborist Stanley Draper, Jr. He has been responsible for the planting of 53,000 trees in Ok, with over 23,000 of them in Oklahoma City itself. The Natural Home Magazine article also states that 29 tree farms have been established in OK to continue Draper’s work of the “Greening of Oklahoma”. So, to answer Mark’s original question, I think you can make a case for definite climate change in Oklahoma, at least in the central & northeastern sections — and that this change was definitely “man-made” — and for the better as far as I am concerned. (db)


According to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, here are the pertinent facts about the states supplies of water, both surface and sub-terranian:

Surface Water

  • Oklahoma has approximately 11,611 miles of shoreline, slightly less than the estimated combined general (nontidal) coastline of the Atlantic, Gulf, Pacific, and Arctic Coasts (12,383 miles).
  • Oklahoma has approximately 78,578 miles of rivers/streams (about three times the circumference of the Earth and one-third the distance to the moon.)
  • Oklahoma’s longest river is the Beaver/North Canadian River (766 miles); the Red River is the second longest (592 miles).
  • Oklahoma contains approximately 1,120 square miles of water area in its lakes and ponds.
  • Oklahoma’s largest lake in surface area is Eufaula (105,000 acres); Lake Texoma is second (88,000 acres). The state’s largest lake in conservation storage is Texoma (2.6 million acre-feet of water); Eufaula is second (2.3 million acre-feet).
  • Average annual lake evaporation in Oklahoma ranges from 48 inches in the extreme east to 65 inches in the southwest, numbers that far exceed the average yearly rainfall in those areas.
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