What a difference a year makes when it comes to the water level at Beaver Lake.
Last January, the reservoir was full to the brim after heavy rain and flooding in late December 2015. This January, the lake level is low, about 19 vertical feet lower. Lack of significant rain for several weeks means there is less water coming into the reservoir than there is going out.
Visit Monte Ne
When Beaver Lake is low, a trip to Monte Ne to see remnants of the Monte Ne Resort amphitheater is a popular outing. Coin Harvey, an entrepreneur and presidential candidate, built the resort and operated it in the early 20th century.
To see the amphitheater, travel Arkansas 94 east from Rogers to the Monte Ne community. Turn right on Canal Street. Follow Canal about one-half mile to Summit Drive. Turn left toward the lake and park just beyond the Army Corps of Engineers sign. Walk to the left about 200 yards along the shoreline to the amphitheater remnants.
— Staff report
A rising and falling lake level affects boaters, dock owners and drinking water providers that draw from the lake. Winter is typically, but not always, when the lake level is lowest, said Mike Richards, lake manger with the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps built the lake in the mid-1960s and manages it today.
Water from the 30,000-acre lake is used to generate electricity and treated for drinking water. The biggest loss of water is through evaporation, even in winter, Richards said.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder when the lake level is low. Boaters may view the lake as more hazardous because obstacles such at rocks and stumps appear that are usually submerged. As the lake level falls, dock owners must be vigilant to keep their docks afloat.
Richards sees the low lake as a good thing. It means Beaver Lake has lots of room to store flood water if heavy rain comes in the spring. Flood control is the main reason the lake was built.
Beaver Lake may appear low this winter, but it has been much lower. The lake level is measured in feet above sea level and it’s been hovering around 1,111 feet for the last week or so. The record low level occurred in the winter of 1976 when the level dipped to 1,092 feet. That’s 18 vertical feet lower.
Lake watchers may remember a low-water winter in 2006 when the lake level was at elevation 1,105 feet.
“That year, people could walk from the highway 12 bridge boat ramp almost all the way out to Bear Island,” said Alan Bland, a corps park ranger at Beaver Lake.
The only thing that prevented reaching the island was a boating channel the corps dug in 1976 when the lake was at elevation 1,092 feet.
“That was good for two reasons. One, people didn’t have to drive their boats all the way around Bear Island to reach the ramp. It helped, too, because when the lake was down people would try to drive out on the island,” Bland said. The boating channel prevented that.
A low level brings its set of problems. The biggest is boating hazards. The safest routes for boats is in the main channel.
“If people will follow the bluff lines, 90 percent of the time they’ll be in the channel,” Richards said. Avoid motoring near shallow sloping gravel shorelines. That’s where hazards are most likely to be, sometimes just a few inches underwater.
Large areas of shoreline are also exposed. Bland said people get tempted to drive their cars, trucks and ATVs along the lake shore, which is illegal.
“We’ve already written several tickets this year,” he said. The fine is around $200. The cost rises dramatically with a tow bill when people get stuck.
“What happens is a guy gets stuck and he’ll call some friends to come and pull him out. Next thing you know there are four vehicles stuck out there,” Bland said.
People sometimes take gravel or native stone from the shoreline, which is illegal, Bland continued.
“People like to look for arrowheads or artifacts, but it’s illegal to take them,” he said.
Metal detecting on the public shoreline is also illegal, he said.
When the lake gets low, phones at the corps’ office in Rogers start ringing. People ask, “are we going to run out of water?”
It’s a question that Alan Fortenberry, CEO of the Beaver Water District, hears, too. The district is the major drinking water provider for Northwest Arkansas.
“No. It’s a big lake,” Fortenberry answers.
The district has the ability to draw water at any lake level, he assured. Even drawing millions of gallons per day from the lake has minimal effect on the level.
It costs the district more in electricity to draw water from the lake when it’s low, Fortenberry said. There is less pressure underwater, or head pressure, so pumps have to work harder to draw.
The district’s electric bill is about $200,000 per month, Fortenberry said. The district is a customer of Carroll Electric Cooperative.
The lake is usually muddy when it’s brim full, as it was last January. It costs the district more to treat muddy water because more chemicals are used to remove the sediment, Fortenberry explained. Temporary conditions like a low lake or muddy water don’t raise a homeowner’s water bill, he said. Beaver Water District sells water wholesale to cities, which provide water to homes and businesses.
A hefty cost for Beaver Lake dock owners may occur if the lake gets low and a dock ends up sitting on the ground. That can puncture a dock’s flotation and damage the framework, said Mark Higdon, co-owner of Boat Dock World located in Avoca. The company builds and maintains docks.
“That can destroy a boat lift. It can bend the roof panels and frames,” he said. “If the dock is on dry land, we have to rent a backhoe to push it back out.”
Richards, with the corps, added that a provision of a boat dock permit is that the owner agrees to keep the dock floating at any lake level.
Most owners of the 1,800 docks on Beaver Lake keep their docks floating, Richards said. The low lake level of 1,092 feet had to be a headache for dock owners, he added, but there were only about 100 docks on Beaver Lake in 1976.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 01/17/2017