Building A Real Lake
By Sherman Wyman
My friends joke that if I am not careful there will be very little dry ground left on my place in Northwest Texas. I can't help myself. I love to build ponds, lakes, wetlands; really anything that will hold or retain water. In a semi-arid area water brings life. Obviously, without water not much survives. My ranch had 2 ponds on it when I started just a few short years ago. Now it has 14, one of those being a nice 8 acre fishing lake. Fish are flourishing, grass has come back and so has wildlife. All I added was water and gave Mother Nature a chance to put things back in order.
For the last several years I have been thinking about building a big lake, 75 acres, on a series of small creeks feeding a larger creek which flows though my ranch before emptying into the Red River. Mind you, I'm just pondering. 75 acres of lake is huge, especially in that part of the world. As much as I love water, there is much more to think about than having a fabulous lake.
What follows are some of my thoughts over the years with my most recent conclusion. As a smile creeps across my face writing this story, I must confess this conclusion doesn't pre-empt me from changing my ever-flowing mind some day.
I have already cored the soil, checking for clay content, watched the water run off after different types of rains and determined flow and run off rates. Those rates have been compared to rates determined by NRCS engineers, so I am comfortable. I even have a good idea whether lake water would be turbid or clear. I have also received a preliminary estimate on what dam construction would cost and made sure I could get local and federal approval for the project. I have investigated other permits through different state and federal agencies, so I have a good understanding of those needs. The basics of the business of building a lake are done.
The rest of the research involves environmental effects the lake would have on wildlife, flora and other fauna. The creek is lined with lots of big trees, and underbrush type cover. The upland area of the ranch is grassland prairie; much like it was when wild herds of buffalo roamed the area only a century and a half ago. As the upland prairie descends to the Red River, grassland shifts into hardwood forests and riparian areas surrounding several fast falling intermittent streams. Trees are a mix of hardwoods and soft woods, at different levels of maturity, 20 to 100 years, plus. All kinds of wildlife utilize this area to feed, loaf, nest, and roost. The forest floor is covered with years of fertile tree litter, and is several degrees cooler during hot summer months. After a few steaming hours on a tractor, all I have to do is head to the woods, into cool shade with breezes. The whole area has improved in just a few short years.
I have enhanced the area by selectively cutting less desirable trees and undergrowth while promoting plant life beneficial to wildlife. If I build a lake I trade this wildlife corridor and sanctuary for water and a sanctuary of another type, attracting different wildlife. One has to consider the consequences of trading forested creek bottom for the bottom of a lake. Once it is done, there is no turning back, not even if you drain the lake. What will be done will be done for generations to come. I could not take this decision lightly. The trees and growth along the creek will die in a very short period of time, weeks actually, and the weight of the water behind the dam will compact the soil so that even if it were drained it will no longer grow the same things it did before. The lake can impact flora and fauna in other ways as well. Halo fog coming off the water as it cools more slowly or warms more slowly than surrounding air will change types of indigenous plant life that grows. Sunlight reflections will change the temperature of soils; these changes are far more reaching than a few feet from the bank. All current animal life will be displaced and movement corridors may move larger animals right off the land.
So, I will take this advice to myself- "take your time before you let the dozer start moving stuff, make sure you understand the impact to things other than just what has fins and gills."
I have pondered.
This decision has been made. As much as I would dearly love to have a bigger lake, the consequences of the rest of the ranch would be too profound. It's one of those times to leave well enough alone.
Reprinted with permission from Pond Boss Magazine