Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lake Altus-Lugert

Lake Altus-Lugert appears on P.49, grid D-7 of the DeLorme Atlas, and P. 113 of the “Lakes of Oklahoma” guide by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. The lake covers 6,260 acres, and has a 49 mile shoreline.

Buddy sits atop the Ram, all dressed up and no place to
go.  Looking at the rock formation off-shore, note the line
between grey and red rock.  That should be the lake's
waterline.  The white rectangle at center is the roof of the
fishing float that should be at least level with the top of the rocks.
The town of Lugert, also created out of the 1901 land-grab of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache lands, now sits at the bottom of the lake. It was destroyed by a 1912 tornado that demolished 41 of the town’s 42 businesses. Lugert was then a town of 300 people. The foundations of many of their homes and businesses can be seen when the lake water levels are low. A historical marker commemorating the town and Frank Lugert, who had filed for the land to build the town on, stands at the head of the lake’s main boat ramp. Frank Lugert’s general store and post office was the sole business left standing in town after the tornado.

The floating walkway should be roughly level
with the parking lot.
The town of Altus initiated the move for a dam in 1927. The construction was made possible by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1938. Dam construction was halted in 1941 because of World War II, resumed in 1944, and completed in 1947 with a dam 110 feet high and 1,104 feet long.

Between the float's height and my height of eye, the camera
is about 15-ft. off the lake bottom, and is still looking up at
what should be the water level.
Lake Altus-Lugert was a recreational mecca for Southwest Oklahoma. Between the mountains and the lake, it was a natural place for numerous attractions like a state park, resort and lodge, golf course, nature center, performing arts complex and outdoor amphitheater, swimming beaches, and RV and tent camping. With the absence of the lake, the area’s economy is taking a substantial hit.

This was my first sight of the lake.  I'm standing on the
riprap that borders the lake and protects the road from
erosion, which is no longer an issue.  The line of  bushes
between me and the remaining water is the foundation
of a normally submerged building.  Everything between
the rocks in the foreground and the tree-line at the base
of the mountains should be lake water.
With the serious and ongoing drought in the region, I had called ahead to ascertain if water levels were good for paddling the lake. The lady I spoke with, obviously a representative of the local Chamber of Commerce, assured me the lake had plenty of water, was beautiful, and everything was as it should be. I had serious reservations about all that, but desperation to get on the water will make one go to unusual extremes, or at least me. When I drove over the last rise that overlooks the lake, it felt like my heart had just dropped into my boots. It was so shocking, I hit the brakes and pulled off the road to make sure I believed what I was seeing.

Except for the vegetation on the bank in the foreground
and some peaks in the distance, you should be seeing
nothing here but deep water and fishermen angling for
large striped bass and walleye, all now dead.
At the parking lot above the boat ramps, what should be a floating walkway goes out some distance between pillars of rock. The walkway is supposed to be just about level with the parking lot, but I walked down and down. As I got close to the rocks, the grey surfaces I was seeing obviously became the dead and bleached plant life that had been at the lake’s bottom. The line between the gray covered rocks and the natural red surfaces rose above my head as I stood on the float at the end of the walkway. As I talked with a photographer about how sad it all looked, I scanned the span between the rock under the float and the old waterline well above our heads, I said, “Ya know, that’s got to be 30-feet.” When I got home, I searched the Corps of Engineers gauge to find that the water was indeed down 29.97 feet. It now is at 30.00 feet. That leaves 13% of the lakes capacity, which sounds like it is better than nothing, but that little bit of water that’s left is basically useless. It’s too low to reach the aqueducts for the farmers’ cotton crops, it is both too low and too salty for drinking water, and the salt, lack of oxygen, and resulting golden algae bloom have killed off the fish. Lake Altus Lugert was known as the home of striped bass and walleye that made for state-record catches. It is now a dead lake.

State officials say Southwest Oklahoma is experiencing the worst drought since 1895. We may not wish to be so bold as to seek heavy rain for 40 days and 40 nights, but to fix either the drought or fill the lakes, it would take at least a couple years of rains so much above normal that we’d become thoroughly sick and tired of rain.


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