Tahlequah Daily Press

Z_CNHI News Service

January 27, 2014

Lake Texoma businesses want definition to ‘emergency’

Ada — Plunging water levels in Lake Texoma have revealed a longstanding disagreement between businesses that depend on it for their livelihood and the Army Corps of Engineers whose primary mission is to provide hydropower to communities.

A government spokesperson said the Corps is only fulfilling its lawful duty. Business owners say they want the law changed to reflect current day realities of the ever-increasing economic impact of tourism.

“We have to remember, when the lake was built, it was built for flood control,” said Shelley Morgan, executive director of Lake Texoma Association. “That was the big issue. Flood control was the first thing and then there was water resource and hydropower. Later on, like in the late 1970s, early 80s, recreation was added as a project purpose. Hydropower and water supply were the two things that trigger different actions when lake levels occur. You also have to be aware, when these users of water take water from Lake Texoma, they’re basically repaying the federal government for the lake that was built in 1940. That cost a lot of money back then. So every time they use water from the lake, they’re repaying that loan. So they’re well within their right to take that water because that is what it was built for.

“Theoretically, they’re well within their rights to do that, per the law, in times of emergency,” Morgan said. “The question becomes, who is defining emergency? Is it an emergency because there is no other source of power available? And if that’s the case, nobody wants anybody to be sitting in the freezing cold with no water. Absolutely we would never advocate anything like that, but are there alternate sources to draining our lake? Absolutely there are.”

James Allen, owner and operator of Blue Water Striper Guide Service, said he believes misinformation will hurt his business more than the drought.

“What we don’t need is what we had with the blue-green algae scare (of 2011),” Allen said. “A lot of misinformation. A lot of social media sites scaring away people with false rumors. That is really my concern. I am already seeing people commenting that the fish are going to die and things like that. That will hurt my business much more than low water levels.

“Why would people come to a mud puddle? It’s not a mud puddle. It never will be a mud puddle. The lake is way too big. It’s not going to affect how the fish bite, but it will affect whether or not people call me in the first place if they read that the fish are dying. So we need to keep that to a minimum, just report the facts.

“This is all I do for a living is work on the lake, so I completely understand their frustration, but they have to place the blame where the real blame is, and that’s lack of rain.”

Morgan said she also understands the need to keep rumors and panic from driving people away from the lake. “We all have to be cautious of that and especially the media because you guys are in such a position of releasing information that the public is very interested in hearing,” Morgan said.

“The situation is that we are 89,000 acres of water on Lake Texoma as a normal elevation. So, if we’re down by eight feet right now ... I haven’t done the math, but let’s just assume it’s 70,000 (acres), that’s still a lot, a lot of water. I mean we’re not all staring at each other as we circle in a little boat pattern. That’s just not the way it is.

“There are things that you might have to watch out for that you didn’t last year, but still, we all have to recognize that’s our economic engine. It’s not just hurting the people on the banks, it’s hurting our entire area, our entire economy, so I agree, you don’t want to turn it into the worst scare in the last 20 years, and the lake’s closed down. The same thing that happened with the blue-green algae scare, it was like, ‘Oh well, the lake’s closed,’ and nobody came. The businesses suffered greatly, and it wasn’t even true. It wasn’t even true.”

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