How a Piece of Oklahoma History was Constructed and Affects the Area Today
There is one main spillway and two auxiliary spillways for Pensacola Dam. With 51 buttress type arches, it maxes out at 150 feet above the river bed. The dam’s overall length with all of its sections is 6,565 feet and the section of multiple-arches is 4,284 feet.
The Cherokees lost 1285 acres and the Quapaw lost 802 acres to the construction of this dam. In 1940, the land was flooded which included half of the ceremonial area of the Seneca-Cayuga Elk River. Many of the tribe members went on to find employment working on the dam construction.
The FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) regulates the power station at Grand Lake’s Pensacola Dam. The license to do this was issued in 1992 and will expire in 2022. Prior to FERC regulating it, the Federal Power Commission was given that authority in 1939. It has been a constant stream of controversy of who regulates this power and how it is regulated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes over what the dam discharges when the elevation of the reservoir exceeds 745 feet.
The reason for so much conflict and controversy is because this dam provides multiple purposes to the area of Grand Lake. From environmental conservation to hydroelectric power production and the recreation uses of the lake, there are many parties pulling in different directions.
The USACE has been known to request minimized releases so that downstream areas aren’t flooded, which reduces the river’s DO (dissolved oxygen) levels downstream. It is estimated that as many as 5,000 fish died in 2007 because of these reductions.
Some Oklahoma government officials claim that the economy of the state is affected. The mass flooding in the rocky areas halts off-road recreation, thus there is an ongoing battle of finding the right amount of releasing water.
Grand Lake brings hundreds to thousands of people that enjoy off-roading the rock park as well as canoeing and sailing. Families and people of all ages throughout Northeast Oklahoma plan their vacations around this beautiful area. With all the outdoor activities, local dining and lodging, it is one of the most popular places to go year round.
The time frame between Memorial Day and Labor Day, vacationing families can take advantage of GRDA ‘s free dam tours, which can bring as many as 9,000 visitors to the area. Included in the tour since 2010, is the Ecosystems and Education Center. Visitors are educated on hydropower, electric and water safety during their tour, as well.