CANTON, Okla. — Six years after Oklahoma City withdrew massive amounts of water from Canton Lake, devastating the lake and the nearby community’s economy, things are, for the most part, back to normal.
“It’s actually at normal pool level, and we’re naturally releasing water, so everything looks to be back to normal as far as lake level is concerned,” said Curtis Hoskins, president of Canton Lake Association. “I think the recovery is probably back to the pre-release of the water that Oklahoma City took. I would think we’re really close, if not back to normal.”
In the midst of severe drought in Oklahoma in January 2013, Oklahoma City, which owns the water rights to the lake, voted to withdraw 30,000 acre-feet of water — or about 9.8 billion gallons — from the lake to alleviate potential shortages of water.
Oklahoma City first took 30,000 acre-feet in 2011 before taking another 30,000 acre-feet in 2013. That, paired with drought, devastated the lake and resulted in record-low lake levels, substantial fish kills and a heavily impacted community.
Normally, the lake experiences natural releases, which occur when the lake exceeds natural pool level. The water is released downstream so the lake remains at normal levels.
Following the March 1, 2013, release of water, the level was at 1,600.23 feet, according to the corps. The normal elevation is 1,615.40 feet.
As of Feb. 13 this year, the lake’s pool elevation was at 1,615.77 feet, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which reported at the 1,615.77 feet level, the amount of water stored in Canton Lake totals 111,446 acre-feet.
“I think Oklahoma City’s implemented some changes on their end, which I don’t know the specifics of, but I think we’ve been blessed … with normal rainfall for the last year and a half or two, so that’s definitely helped,” Hoskins said. “But I think they should either be getting close or have already implemented some cross down water piping to take some pressure off of Canton Lake as far as requesting water is concerned, so hopefully the better days are in front of us.”
While the Canton Lake tourism industry saw the loss of many visitors after the water withdrawal, Hoskins said the last time he spoke with the corps he was told lake visitations are back up, including boat ramp activity and camping.
A number of new projects are being undertaken, including an effort to get a disk golf course implemented in the Big Bend area of the lake and a restoration project of the Frank Raab Nature Trail below the dam, which is expected to complete before early summer.
Hoskins also said fishing at the lake is excellent again, with all the beaches back up and running. The Sandy Cove region has been cleaned up, and the Canton community itself has mostly recovered.
“I would think just the foot traffic and basically the people revisiting the lake obviously helps the community of Canton that suffered for several years there in a row. And the businesses and the outlying community that depend on that as a revenue stream, I think it definitely has helped an up-tick around the community,” Hoskins said.
Hopes are to keep communications open between the community of Canton and Oklahoma City to avoid repeating history that proved to be a premature act on behalf of the city of Oklahoma City.
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Later in 2013, Lake Hefner received a healthy amount of rainfall that saw the banks of Lake Hefner, where the Canton water was released, with too much water. A city spokeswoman at the time confirmed that more than 23,000 acre-feet of water ended up released into Lake Overholser and then back into the North Canadian River, where Canton Lake draws its water from farther north.
“Hopefully we won’t have to cross this bridge again and the severity that it happened. I think it was more common-sense driven, reverting back to the actual conversation we were having before the release,” Hoskins said. “We were actually wanting them to wait for the spring rains before ... if they would have just waited 30 days, everything would have been avoided.”