R. Morgan, July 1, 2019
Lake Appreciation Month is an annual event of the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS). During this event NALMS strives to have the Governor of every State in the United States to proclaim the month of July as Lakes Appreciation Month. Residents of the State are then encouraged to get out and enjoy the lake of their choice to show their appreciation. Arkansas has participated in the event for the last decade.
According to the world atlas (www.worldatass.com) Arkansas is home to 2340 named lakes that have a surface area of over 5 acres. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is responsible for oversight of water quality in publicly owned lakes in the State. ADEQ recognizes 515,635 acres of lakes in Arkansas. That does however depend on how you define ‘lake’. Some people differentiate between natural lakes and reservoirs (a body of water created by the damming of a stream). Reservoirs in that case are not considered to be lakes. NALMS definition of ‘lake’ is “a considerable body of inland water or an expanded part of a river. Using this definition, both natural lakes and reservoirs should be considered lakes.
Most of the 515,635 across of lakes in Arkansas are reservoirs. Federal, state and local agencies have all built reservoirs in the state as well as numerous private organizations and individuals. Reservoirs are built for a purpose i.e. flood control, power production, water supply, cooling, recreation, wildlife habitat, irrigation, etc. In Arkansas natural lakes consist of the ‘oxbows’ along our major rivers. An oxbow is formed when a meandering river changes course and cuts off a large loop of the river, or a meander. The cutoff meander then remains filled with water and essentially is a lake. Lake Chicot near Lake Village in S.E. Arkansas is the largest oxbow lake in North America. There are hundreds of other oxbows along the Mississippi, Arkansas, White, Red, Ouachita and other rivers. Mostly they occur in the Arkansas Delta.
Lake Ouachita, at 40,100 surface acres, is the largest lake totally within the borders of Arkansas when measured by surface area. Bull Shoals in northern Arkansas is actually a little larger at 45,440 acres, but we share that lake with Missouri. Beaver Lake near Eureka Springs has the deepest point of all lake in Arkansas at 220 feet. Greers Ferry Reservoir on the other hand has the deepest average depth at 60 feet.
It is hard to say what the smallest lake in Arkansas might be. But it is likely a plunge pool below a waterfall in either the Ozark or Ouachita Mountains. A plunge pool is the small lake formed by erosion of the creek bed at the base of a waterfall. Most plunge pools in Arkansas would be far below the 5-acre threshold to be considered as one of the 2340 lakes. The greatest use of plunge pools is likely for skinny dipping on hot summer afternoons.
Determination of the cleanest lake in Arkansas is also difficult. Cleanliness has to be considered with respect to the lake’s ecoregion as well as its intended use. Water quality also changes temporally as well as locationally within a body of water. So the available data do not provide a good basis for comparison. Many people think of clarity when they think of a lake’s cleanliness.
Clarity (well actually transparency, but that is a technicality) can easily be measured with a small black and white disk called a Secchi Disk. The Secchi Disk is connected to a rope and lowered into a body of water until it disappears. The point where it disappears is measured and then referred to as the Secchi depth. A greater Secchi depth indicates clearer water. Crater Lake in Oregon is known for its extreme transparency. Secchi depths of up to 135 feet have been measured in the lake. Beaver Water District in NW Arkansas conducts Secchi Day on Beaver Lake annually in late August. During this event, citizen scientists measure Secchi Depth and collect water samples at 35 points in the lake over a two-hour period. Depths of up to 20 feet have been measured near the Beaver Dam. Closer to the headwaters however, Secchi Depths may be as little as 1 foot. For Arkansas, 20 feet is a pretty good Secchi Depth. The warm water and abundant nutrients promote growth of algae which tend to cloud the water.
Transparency is an absolute measurement, but it does not however indicate the health of a body of water. Darby Nelson in his book ‘For the Love of Lakes’ tells a story of paddling and carrying his canoe to Nellie Lake in Killarney Provincial Park Quebec. His sole purpose for the trip was to measure the Secchi depth. Nellie Lake is known for its water clarity. When he arrived at the lake Darby lowered his Secchi Disk into the water along with all 50 feet of rope that he had brought along. At the end, he could clearly see his black and white disk. Darby then goes on to tell about others who have measured Secchi depth in Nellie at over 100 feet. Lake Nellie rivals Crater Lake as the clearest lake in North America. The problem is that the reason Nellie is so clear is that it is dead. Years ago, acid rain killed off all plant an animal life. There is nothing in the lake but acid water.
I don’t know that I have a favorite Arkansas lake. I do have a fondness for the small reservoirs in the Ozark Mountains as well as for the oxbows in the White River refuge. But it is also hard to deny the pleasure of kayaking on our large reservoirs like Beaver or Ouachita, especially when you can get there on a cool quiet weekday morning. I suppose in the end my favorite lake is the one I am heading for next.