Flooding in DeGray: How the state park is dealing with the water

Philis Dixon, Student Reporter

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DeGray Lake State Park is in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains and nestled along the shores of the 13,800- acre DeGray Lake. The park is famous for its clear waters and resort amenities, including a marina, an 18 hole golf course, lodge, riding stables, and camping facilities.

The lodge sits on its own island and provides magnificent views of the lake. The lodge also has meeting rooms and convention facilities that can accommodate groups of up to 300.

The lake is home to many species of birds, including Bald Eagles, Pacific Loons, Common Loons, and various species of wildlife. To call it a natural paradise would be an understatement of this state park and all that it has to offer its visitors. The lake itself offers visitors over 220 miles of shoreline with 12 or more being within the park itself. If you have ever spent a day at DeGray state park beaches you will know there is much to be enjoyed. Sandy beaches awaits the beachgoer in crystal clear cool waters. And it makes for an adventure you will not ever forget. Kakayers enjoy the lake as much as the fisherman, boaters, and sailboat enthusiasts.

On March 1, 2018 all this came to a halt because the park was closed due to massive flooding.

On Thursday March 8, Henderson State University student Philis Dickson spoke with Jason Parrie (Park Ranger II) about this and related issues.

Photo by Steve Huddleston.
The park was greatly affected by the floods

QUESTION: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. How high did the lake get?

ANSWER: On 2/20/18 DeGray Lake was at 201.52 feet above sea level. By 3/3/18 it had risen to 422.74 feet above sea level (21.22 feet!—The HIGHEST lake level on record for DeGray). According to the USGS website, the Caddo River watershed received nearly 20 inches of rain between 2/20/18 and 3/1/18. Flood pool or recreation pool is 408.00 above sea level. So, on 2/20/18, DeGray Lake was about 6 ½ feet below flood pool.

Q: Can you give me an official quote about how you think the flood impacted the park in the short and long term effects?

A: In Arkansas State Parks we like to think long term and the long term effects of the flood on the park will be negligible. That goes the same for the local wildlife and ecology. They will recover quickly and without much trace of the flood. For the short term, there will be closures and some minor damage. It might take a few months to get everything repaired, cleaned up, and back in order, but the park will escape this event just fine. The real damage has been to our guests. Many people waited nearly two years for DeRoche Ridge to reopen after renovations only to have the park close down on what would have been the grand opening. It has been difficult to tell our guests that their reservations have been cancelled due to the flooding. The flood has affected Spring Break, several groups, and even weddings. We’re most grateful that our guests have been super understanding and are still anxious to come back once we reopen.

Q: When you said the lake served its purpose I know you meant to prevent flood damage. Can you please describe this better to me?

A: The primary reason the US Army Corps of Engineers built DeGray Lake was to control/prevent flooding. The project also provides hydroelectric power, a water supply, and recreation opportunities. The Corps tells us that there are more than 100,000 people who live downstream of the lake who are protected by the dam. Essentially, DeGray Lake stores excess water until flood waters downstream recede. Once things are clear downstream, DeGray can release that excess water in a controlled manner—and generate electricity while doing so. Some numbers to consider: the lake is roughly 14,000 acres in size and it rose approximately 21 feet during this event. Imagine 14,000 acres of water, 21 feet high, rushing uncontrolled downstream through and over the communities of Caddo Valley, Arkadelphia, Camden, and even down to Monroe, LA. That didn’t happen because DeGray Lake stored that water.

Q: Can you describe the park’s waste disposal system and in general how it works and how often is it tested? How does this effect the operations of the park and its reopening?

A: DeGray Lake Resort State Park treats its own wastewater. It has two wastewater plants. The main plant treats wastewater from most of the park. There is a smaller plant which just treats wastewater from the DeRoche Ridge camping and day use areas. Wastewater runs downhill from each facility (bathroom or building with a bathroom) via underground pipes to collection points. These points are either manholes (underground collection boxes) or lift stations (underground collection boxes which have submersible pumps which pump wastewater uphill to other collection boxes or the wastewater plant).

Effects of the flood: As the lake rises several things happen. 1) Ground water (from the lake) infiltrates the wastewater system through joints in the pipes. This introduces thousands of gallons of lake water into the wastewater system. 2) As the lake continues to rise, the water overtops some of the manholes and lift stations—dumping more lake water into the wastewater system. 3) As the intrusion of lake water into the wastewater system increases the maximum flow capacity of the wastewater treatment plants is eventually reached. The pumps within the system begin to operate non-stop and quickly become at risk for failure. 4) As the lake continues to rise, the electric control panels of several lift stations become submerged

Park response: 1) Park staff closely monitors the lake level. 2) Based on the current lake level and predicted rising levels, park staff make adjustments to the wastewater system. Adjustments include shutting down bathroom facilities (to prevent further introduction of waste into the wastewater system), and shutting down certain lift stations (to reduce the flow of lake water into the treatment plants and to prevent damage to the lift stations). 3) Eventually, all lift stations and the main treatment plant have to be shut down. 4) The park and Entergy work together to cut off all power to submerged electric systems.

The park operates the wastewater system for as long as possible AFTER closing down all bathroom facilities to ensure that all wastewater in the system is treated before the system becomes fully compromised and has to be shut down.

The park cannot reopen facilities until the wastewater system is back online (water level must fall below infiltration level, lift stations repaired and operational, main treatment plant back operational). This might take days or weeks after the lake levels fall.

The Visitor Center remained open because: 1) access to it was not impaired by water, 2) It’s bathroom facilities run off of a newly installed septic system and so are not connected to the main wastewater system.

The park’s wastewater system is monitored daily by a level III wastewater operator and monthly by the DEQ. The park also has several level I and level II wastewater operators who also help monitor and operate the wastewater system.

Q: What is the estimated date you think the park will reopen?

A: 1) Parts of the park will reopen at different times

2) Golf Course and Visitor Center are fully open now.

3) Marina is partially open now—accessible by boat only. It will fully open any day—depending on how fast the lake recedes.

a. The marina boat ramp is open now.

4) Camping Areas A and B are closed until at least March 16. They might reopen March 17 but it depends on repairs

5) Camping Area C and DeRoche Ridge camping area and lodge are all closed until at least March 25. Reopening depends on repairs.

a. Area C will likely remain closed for much longer as it is the lowest lying area and will take longer for the waters to recede.

b. The DeRoche ridge boat ramp is closed but will likely reopen before the camping area. It could reopen once the water clears the parking lot. (a few days)

c. The lodge closing includes the restaurant and all other lodge facilities.

6) Caddo Bend Day Use Area is closed until at least March 25. Reopening depends on water clearing the road and repairs. This should reopen before Area C.

a. This includes the Area C Boat Ramp. This will likely reopen once the water clears the road.

7) The disc golf course is closed until water clears the course—a few days.

8) Hiking trails are closed until water clears the trails—a few days.

9) The Horse Stables are closed. These are privately run. The owners hope to reopen by Memorial Day Weekend. They do have a stable at Lake Catherine State Park which is open now.

Q: How much do you estimate was lost in total revenues for the month of March?

A: Nearly $300,000 was lost if I were to take a rough guess.

Q: Wasn’t the newly renovated Deroche campground set up to reopen in March?

A: It cost nearly $ 1.377 million dollars to build Deroche campground and it was set to open up March 1; the same day the park closed due to flooding. Deroche had significant damage. Fully half or more of the sights are damaged. Full damage has not be accessed yet.

Q: How does the park plan on getting business back in order?

A: Our largest loss was from loss of revenues. The other cost will be to repair the damage done. The lake served its purpose to protect the communities downstream from major loss of farms, possible lives and livelihoods. FEMA came out today to access damage.

We will all have to wait a little while to enjoy the recreational benefits of this lake again but it seems to be in good hands. The park will soon be needing volunteers to help with the cleanup.

Ranger Parrie said you can contact him if your service organization is willing an able to help out. His email is: jasonparrie@arkansas.gov