Last Wednesday, June 12th, the Army Corps of Engineers released a statement explaining that large releases of water were possible from Bull Shoals Lake, Table Rock Lake, Beaver Lake, and Norfork Lake in the coming days. The primary goal of the Corps is to control flooding along the White River, especially in eastern Arkansas which is prime farming land. Following is a bit of an explanation of what is going on.
The White River system includes the White River, the Black River, the North Fork River, the Buffalo River, and various other smaller tributaries all in northern Arkansas. With spring rains, flooding could, and certainly has been, a major concern along this river system. Back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, four large dams were established along the White River system to try to mitigate the flooding problem. As a result, we now have Norfork Lake (on the North Fork River), Bull Shoals Lake, Table Rock Lake, and Beaver Lake (all on the White River). There are not any dams on the Black River or the Buffalo River.
The Corps has established a control plan that provides limitations to the amount of water released from these reservoirs in an effort to minimize flooding. The primary key to the plan are the river gauges located near the town of Newport, Arkansas. Newport is located about 200 miles downriver from Bull Shoals Dam. This is the primary point where the water level and flow on the White River is monitored.
The plan allows for different levels of flow at Newport at different times of the year based on the farming seasons. Between May 15th till the end of November, the plan establishes a limit of 12 feet or lower. During May of this year, this gauge was somewhere near 30 feet. As of June 15th, the Newport river gauge is at 15 feet and the river is falling a little more than one foot per day. As soon as the 12 foot level is reached, the Corps will dictate water releases from the lakes.
The control plan also establishes levels for the lakes that determine when the reservoir is in “flood pool” stage or under “power pool”. When the lake is at or below the power pool level, then Southwest Power Administration controls the lake water coming through the dam for electric power generation. Any level of the lake above the power pool level is considered flood water, and it is to be released as quickly as possible considering the river level at Newport. If the Newport level is too high, the flood water will be stored in the lake until conditions improve. This plan works great until the lake level gets to the top of the dam and then more rain comes. Then the amount of water coming into the lakes must be released through the dam since there is no more storage space available.
The level of each lake is measured in terms of feet above sea level. Looking at each lake as they exist from west to east, as of Saturday, June 15th:
Beaver Lake is currently 1129.4 feet. The top of the flood pool is 1130 feet. The power pool level is 1121 feet. 93% of the storage capacity is already filled up.
Table Rock Lake is currently at 917 feet, which is the power pool level. The top of this flood pool is 931 feet, so there is 14 feet of storage capacity available.
Bull Shoals Lake is currently at 685 feet. The power pool level is 662 feet and the top of the flood pool is 695 feet. This lake is capable of storing 33 feet of flood water and is currently at 65% of this capacity.
Norfork Lake is currently at 574 feet. The top of the flood pool is 580 feet, only 6 more feet of storage available. The power pool level is 556.75 feet. Norfork Lake is at 71% of its flood capacity.
Two situations can happen in the coming days. One is that the Newport river gauge will reach 12 feet which will allow the Corps to begin releasing some of the flood waters stored in the lakes. Understanding, they cannot raise the river level above the 12 foot level, so the releases will be regulated. The second situation is that Norfork and/or Bull Shoals lakes reach the top of their respective flood pool levels. If this happens, then the Corps will allow releases through the dams equivalent to the water flowing into the lake, no matter the river level at Newport. Either way, higher water flows can be expected through Bull Shoals Dam as well as Norfork Dam within just a few more days. This would continue until the lakes stabilize and then the Newport gauge would still have to reach the 12 feet level before the stored flood waters could be released.
High water levels in this part of the White River is not unusual during the summer months; this has happened during many previous years. As in previous years, we can expect between 6 to 10 feet of water continuously running through Bull Shoals Dam for the next two to three months.
If you already have a trip planned or are considering a trip, don’t let the higher water levels keep you away. The fishing will still be just as good as usual, but your technique will have to adapt. Having a fishing guide to handle the boat and put you on the fish is always the best plan. If you have questions or concerns, please give us a call; we will be glad to help.