Texas Dam Threatens to Breach Once Again

Recent flooding in Texas has caused pandimonium as local residents await another dam breach in Denison, Texas alongside the Denison Dam.  Please read the following story from the News Oklahoma website covering the heightened awareness surrounding the dam.

Will Lake Texoma spill?

By Chad Previch
Staff Writer-News Oklahoma 

DENISON DAM — Thousands of spectators from both sides of the Red River visited the Denison Dam on Thursday to see a disaster, and ended up at a circus.With floodwaters at the lip of the spillway, folks young and old were on hand to see if — as officials predicted — water would breach the graffiti-adorned concrete spillway for just the third time in history.  

However, Thursday morning, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said the lake might not spill over the dam. And, they said, the effects won’t be as devastating as 1990 — the last time the spillway lived up to its designed function, which is to release water to protect the dam.

The lake elevation at 5 p.m. Thursday was 639.44 feet, said Ron Jordan, lake manager for the Corps of Engineers. The top of the spillway is at 640 feet. The lake is rising about three-hundredths of a foot per hour, Jordan said, and if that rate continues, the water will go over the spillway about 2 p.m. today.

However, Jordan said, the rate of increase has been diminishing thanks to a respite from heavy rains and the release of water through the dam’s gates. “It’s conceivable that it would get right there but not get over,” he said.

“Right now the dam gates are releasing about 25,000 cubic feet per second and could be opened farther to release about 30,000 cubic feet of water per second. “We really can’t release more than that and keep it from flooding downstream,” he said.

Spectators ranging from toddlers to grandparents streamed in off State Highway 91, which goes across Denison Dam. Spectators took pictures, updated friends on cell phones and yelled at television crews from Oklahoma and Texas.

Someone wondered why daredevil Evel Knievel wasn’t there. One Texas station had a homemade sign counting down to the dam’s expected plunge. An Oklahoma television station showed live streaming of the spillway on its Web site. Some entrepreneurs sold 18 T-shirts commemorating the event in about 10 minutes before they were informed their kind of commerce wasn’t allowed on federal property.

Grads decorated spillway

For years, the spillway has served as the canvas for graduating classes from nearby Denison High School in Denison, Texas. Many alumni were on hand Thursday to see if their handiwork would be washed away.

“Ours will hold up so much better than everybody else’s because we used two coats of paint,” Wesley Pool said of the big “05” painted on the spillway. Pool and several friends watched the water nudge to the spillway’s edge. He witnessed the water’s surge in 1990 when flooding destroyed roads, bridges, businesses and land. He was surprised by the tailgate-like atmosphere surrounding the dam. “It’s a circus up here,” Pool said. “Two weeks ago, I put my boat in over by the outhouse that is under water over there. Now I could launch it off this hill.” Drew Wells joked that he should open a bar by the spillway to entertain the spectators. He also painted with classmates in 2005. “We’re going to be mad if it gets washed off,” Wells said. “My name is on there.”

Power of the water

Jim Brown, 56, came with his 8-year-old daughter, Cynthia, but left less than impressed. He had good reason; he was there when water bullied itself over the spillway in 1957. “Let’s say, it was hellacious,” said Brown, who now lives in Sherman, Texas. “People had nets, pitchforks, potato forks — anything they could find to catch the fish.” Mark Davis, 42, of Denison, witnessed the water’s raw power in 1990 as it muscled its way over the spillway. He said the water started spilling over the concrete on the north side and then cascaded its way south.

It took about 18 minutes to cover the spillway, Davis recalled. “It’s a beautiful site,” he said. William Hall, 41, remembers skateboarding across the spillway. “I’d like to be there right in the middle with a dry suit and a surfboard,” he said, laughing. Jason Handlang came with his 1-year-old son, Landon. Handlang has a boat on the lake and said a couple days ago the water rose about 2 feet every few hours. He witnessed the breach in 1990. “It makes a loud roar,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”  

Flooding compelled Judy Zindell, 64, to change her method of entertaining guests from Michigan. Zindell has a house on the Oklahoma side of the lake. “We wanted to show them the house,” she said. “Instead, we’re showing them this.” Zindell and others said that after the 1990 flood, a road near former independent presidential candidate Ross Perot‘s home was washed away. Perot was told it would take three months to build a new one.

Instead, he built his own in two weeks. 

To read more coverage on this story from WRAL, please click here.