Lake Ouachita History
Lake Ouachita was authorized by the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944, Public Law 534, 78th Congress, Chapter 655, 2nd Session, House Report No. 4485, which adopted the plan as set forth in House Document No.647.
Officially named Blakely Mountain Dam Reservoir.
The original authorized purpose of Lake Ouachita was flood control and hydroelectric power production. This authority was amended by Section 4 of the Flood Control Act of 1944 to include public recreation on these projects. Authority to construct, maintain, and operate public parks and recreational facilities at water resource development projects under the control of the Department of the Army was granted under section 207 of the Flood Control Act of 1962.
The Ouachita River Valley was first inhabited by Native American tribes including the Washita, Tensas, Chickasaw, Caddo, Osage, Cherokee and Choctaw. The earliest settlers into the area were the French in the late 1700s. By the early 1800s other settlers began arriving from east of the Mississippi into the vast, uncharted wilderness along the Ouachita River. Hernando DeSoto was one of the first explorers to document life along the Ouachita River. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Hunter-Dunbar Expedition to explore and chart the Ouachita River. In 1836 Arkansas became a state and Garland and Montgomery counties were formed soon after. The Ouachita River became a highway for transportation and commerce, including steamboat travel.
The Lower Ouachita River Valley Area flooded often due to a drop in elevation from the mouth of the river in western Arkansas at the base of Rich Mountain to Arkadelphia, a distance of 75 miles, by 228 feet and from Arkadelphia to Camden dropping only 6 miles, the river fell 82 feet before moving thru more level terrain which would slow the water flow and cause significant flooding in the farm and ranch lands in the lower regions of the Ouachita river valley.
As early as 1870, the federal government was conducting surveys to determine what could be done to stop the floods. In the 1890s, the Government, based on the surveys from 1870 thru 1890 recommended a series of dams on the Ouachita River above Malvern.
A survey completed in 1909 first mentioned the possibility of power production. But Congress decided the project didn’t justify taxpayer support, and the plans were shelved.
The Poole and Adair Indian mounds were excavated by the University of Arkansas in 1939.
The funding again was stopped by Congress and the project was shelved in the late 1930’s.
In the late 30’s under the leadership of Harvey Couch, AP&L wanted to build the New Dam above Lake Hamilton for electrical power production and a permit was issued. Arkansas Power and Light had already built two dams on the Ouachita River below the proposed new dam site.
Lake Catherine was created when Remmell Dam was completed in 1924. Carpenter Dam created Lake Hamilton when completed in 1932.
Harvey Couch the founder of Arkansas Power and Light wanted to name the new lake “Lake Couch.” But the Depression and problems with details eventually caused the government to terminate the company’s permit in 1941 the year Harvey Couch died.
In 1944 with the passing of a flood control bill by Congress which contained approval for building of a dam on the Ouachita River the project was revived.
Money was appropriated and in 1946 Army Corp of Engineers personnel began showing up in force. Buying the rest of the land the government didn’t own.
Owners of farms and residences did not always agree with the government appraised value of their property. Starting in the 1930’s government appraisers started buying land, paying an average of $30 per acre.
Cemeteries within the reservoir were moved to new locations during the summer of 1952.
Due to the acidic soil, few actual remains were found in the 1200 or so graves exhumed.
Land owners were allowed to cut their timber. Buildings of any substance, the owners allowed to relocate.
The Buckville Baptist Church was moved 1/2 mile to higher ground and remains today as the only structure to survive the filling of the lake.
Old Buckville, Cedar Glades (Harold), Flea Bend (Aultville), Oakwood (Chalybeate Spring), White Plains area are under the waters of Lake Ouachita.
The emergency spillway was constructed first starting in August of 1947 to redirect the river so construction of the earth-filled dam and intake structure could began. The two large tunnels ( Flood control and power tunnels) along with the dam and intake structures followed. The dam was completed in 1952 was one year ahead of schedule. The flood gates were closed in July of 1952 and Lake Ouachita began to fill with water. The power plant was constructed once the lake level reached the working level of the intake towers and the first electrical power was generated on July 17, 1955.
The official dedication of Blakely Mountain Dam occurred on July 4, 1956. This began Blakely Dam and Lake Ouachita’s service to the nation providing power, flood control, water supply, and recreation.
Blakely Dam itself is composed of rolled earth, almost four million cubic yards of earth. It is 231 feet high and 1100 feet wide. The optimum lake level is 578′ above sea level. If the level reaches 592′ the water would flow through an emergency 200 feet wide spillway located one mile west of the dam and then into Lake Hamilton.
This has never happened since the gates where closed in 1953 however in December 1982 – January 1983, the lake did reach 591.2 feet, just .8 of a foot short of going through the spillway.
The water level rose 13 1/2 feet between December 2, 1982 and December 5, 1982.
The COE area covers 82,000 acres.
At 578 feet, 40,100 acres of the project is covered by the lake.
At 592 ft above sea level it would be 975 miles around the shoreline
and the flood control pool would be 48,300 acres.
Drainage area is 1105 sq. miles. Total storage capacity 2,768,000 acre feet.
(One acre foot equals one acre of water one foot deep).
The hills that surround the lake range up to 1,350′.