Inside the Denison Dam

LAKE TEXOMA-- It covers 143,000 acres with 580 miles of shore line and over 6 million visitors annually.

Lake Texoma, it's where the Red and Washita Rivers meet a water way shared between Oklahoma and Texas, formed by the Denison Dam on the Red River. Lake Texoma lies 726 miles upstream from the mouth of the Raging Red.

"A lot of folks take Lake Texoma for granted, they see it as a place to go sport fish and swim. But you really need to dig back to the 1800's to see the origin of Lake Texoma, how it come about."

As BJ Parkey explains, Lake Texoma was placed in between the two states for a reason.

In 1927, the Mississippi River's levee's failed. 27,000 square miles were destroyed by the flood.

"So then Congress got into the act, passed a bill in 1928, directing the Corps of Engineers to come up with another plan, besides just building levies. So they spend 10 years studying everything. And what they came up with, was a plan to build dam's on tributaries to the Mississippi and on the top of that list, was a dam on the Red River," said, documentary film maker, Gene Lenore. He is studying the history of the Denison Dam.

He says in 1939, President Roosevelt signed off on a $54,000,000 dam project.

"The Dam worked started in 1939 and they closed the flood gates in 1944. And this was during the height of World War II. The country was fighting battles on two fronts," Lenore said.

The Denison Dam was the only civil work project that stayed fully funded throughout the war. In 1944 the world's largest Earth Rolled Field Dam was completed. Since then, there have been 3 major floods: in 1957, 1990, and 2007.

"Lake Texoma's water shed is a little over 39,000 square miles. 39,714 square miles, that is just slightly less than the square mileage than the entire state of Kentucky. Imagine every drop of rainfall that falls on the entire state of Kentucky, gets funneled down to a particular location. That's Lake Texoma, Denison Dam," Parkey explained.

Today, the dam's job is more than just containing the mighty Red River. It serves as a hydroelectric power plant, it has the ability to generate 80 megawatts worth of power. That's 4.6 million gallons of water per second or the equivalent to over 19 Waterloo Pools.

The intake structure, or the big cement block, near the dam, has gates that let water through. That's how the water is released to the dam. Which on a given day, can give electricity to 450,000 people.

We asked the Army Corps of Engineers for a tour of the Denison Dam.

But since 9/11 the Dam has been closed to the public.

"Obviously, there are some sensitive areas that most folks, shouldn't or needn't know about. So that's why so much scrutiny or security is needed in a place like that."

But Parkey said if you have ever been inside the Hoover Dam, the 15,000 square foot Denison Dam is similar, but just on a much small scale.

Lenore has been inside the Dam once before.

"You can see the turbines in the floor, because the water that comes through turns the turbine and it generates the electricity. It's a great big space."

In the 68 years since its completion Engineers estimate the Lake has saved downstream residents over a third of a billion dollars in flood damage.

But perhaps the lakes biggest impact is an unintended consequence. It could be the millions of dollars in revenue it bring to both sides of the river every year.


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