Why so many Oklahoma lakes?

The recent trend of rainy weather in Oklahoma got me thinking. Why the heck, do we have so many lakes in Oklahoma and why are they all man made? If you didn’t already know Oklahoma has a lot of shoreline, we’re talking 55,646 miles of shoreline!

It mainly started with Governor Robert S. Kerr who gave a speech about water in Oklahoma in 1963 and how we needed to tame the abundant supplies of water we have in Oklahoma, referring to the rivers that ran through the state. Kerr stated in his speech, “I tell the people of Oklahoma that our abundant supplies of water will be worth more to our great state in the next half century then all the oil and gas we’ve produced have been worth to it in the past half century.” That is a bold statement when talking about a state big on oil and gas production.

Robert S Kerr walking across the Altus Lake Dam

Another man by the name of Carl Albert was also influential in the building of Oklahoma reservoirs.  In fact President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of how influential both Carl Albert and Robert “Bob” Kerr were during his remarks at the dedication of the Eufaula Dam in 1964. Johnson, a native Texan, was also devoted to conserve natural resources and stated that nothing that the government accomplished that year could have happened except under the leadership of the Oklahoma delegation and particularly Carl Albert.  In his dedication he mentioned how the Eufaula Dam was one of Robert Kerr’s dreams and how he wished he could have been there to see the completion.  Kerr passed away in 1963, the same year he gave the speech to Oklahoma about conserving water.  It is a great dedication and you can read it all by clicking on the link at the bottom.

So why do we have so many lakes? There are a few reasons, mainly for flood control, water supply, recreation, fish, wildlife, and hydroelectric power.  And who knows this might not have happened if not for a few men having the foresight and the dream to conserve Oklahoma’s natural resources for the future. Without them we would probably be still struggling through patterns of flood and drought. With our current season of rain I think we all should appreciate this a little more when we go to sleep in our dry houses and drive to work on only semi flooded roads. Just think how much worse it could have been.

Buff Creek Dam, Lake Hefner 1945

Does Oklahoma have any natural lakes?

               This question came up early when researching why Oklahoma had so many lakes and the answer is of course complicated.  To explain this I must also give a short geology lesson.  The only natural lakes in Oklahoma are called oxbow and playa lakes. An oxbow lake is a crescent-shaped lake lying alongside a winding river. It is created overtime as erosion occurs both on the outside of the loop, making it wider and on the neck of the loop eventually allowing the river to flow straight instead of taking the curve. An example of this is Horseshoe Lake in Rogers County Oklahoma. There are several of these horseshoe lakes in Oklahoma this is just an example of one of them.

Example of an oxbow lake – Horseshoe Lake Rogers County Oklahoma

The other type of “natural lake” is a playa lake. A playa lake is a round hollow in the ground that is only present at certain times of the year which is typically the rainy time of year. The only playa lake information for Oklahoma I could find was the Smithton Playa Lake. Basically a playa is a medium to large low spot that fills with water when it rains and usually dries up in the hot summer months. There is a hiking trail near Guymon called the Playa Lake Loop it might be something to check out in the future.

Smithon Playa Lake – Oklahoma

So to answer the question: Does Oklahoma have any natural lakes? Yes we do and sometimes there are more than others.







Check out my twitter page @OkieHistoryPics

Read the full dedication of Eufaula Dam by Lyndon Johnson.

Learn about our rivers, lakes and streams.

Listen to the water speech by Robert S. Kerr.

Smithton Playa Lake picture courtesy of. Farm Service Agency

Historical Picture courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Originally posted June 18, 2016




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