March 1, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Wildlife Department monitoring Canton Lake in wake of water releases
Over the past few weeks, water released from Canton Lake in northwest Oklahoma has been making a 100-mile trek down the North Canadian River to Lake Overholser, where it is then being diverted to Lake Hefner to be used for Oklahoma City drinking water. While the release of more than 7 feet of water is intended to boost water supplies in Oklahoma City, it could lead to significant consequences for Canton Lake, its fish population and the surrounding communities that rely on the lake's economic and recreational drawing power. Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say they recognize the issues facing the lake and will be diligent to ensure its continued viability as a fishery.
The water release was initiated by Oklahoma City Utilities, which holds the rights to drain water from the lake. Already down 9.4 feet from normal as a result of drought and two prior water releases by Oklahoma City in 2011, Canton's water level is taking a significant hit.
"Canton Lake levels are going to be very low going into the spring, and they could drop even lower this summer," said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. "That can lead to a host of problems if we don't see some relief from the drought and some significant inflows of water into the lake this spring."
One of the biggest threats the lake faces is the potential for a significant summer fish die-off as a result of massive plankton blooms that rob the water of oxygen. When water levels become too low at a lake like Canton, a large plankton bloom followed by a few exceptionally overcast days with no wind to aerate the lake can kill large numbers of fish - the most susceptible being those that anglers like to catch, including crappie, walleye, bass, catfish and important food sources like gizzard shad.
A large fish kill also could impact the state's saugeye stocking program, which currently relies on female walleyes collected from Canton whose eggs are crossed with sauger sperm. The resulting saugeye are stocked in lakes across the state, and a shortage of walleyes at Canton could force the Wildlife Department to find other sources for production not just for 2013, but in the future as well.
Bolton said the Wildlife Department is keeping a close watch on the situation at Canton Lake and will continue working to maintain the fishery. This spring, fisheries biologists will continue to monitor the lake, conducting regular electrofishing surveys and keeping data on the status of the fishery. In the event of a fish kill, heavy spring rains could raise water levels and bring more fish downstream to Canton from Ft. Supply Lake and, if needed, the Department will analyze the need and possibility of restocking the lake. Additionally, while water levels are down, fisheries personnel will continue habitat work, such as adding structure to the lakebed.
Business as usual will continue as much as possible around the lake, with events like the famous Canton Walleye Rodeo still slated for May 16-19, 2013. The Walleye Rodeo has been one of the largest fishing events in Oklahoma, drawing families and visitors of all ages to the lake and boosting local economies. More information on the Canton Walleye Rodeo can be found online at walleyerodeo.com.
Bolton said it is too soon to say exactly how the Canton fishery will be impacted, but he emphasized that the state, its municipalities, its industries, and even its residents should continue striving to make water conservation a top priority.
"Canton Lake and the communities around it could really suffer from this," Bolton said. "But this whole thing points to a very important overriding message - that we can do a better job at conserving water resources. Sometimes water is used as if it is an unlimited resource, but the problem is that it's not. All of us can do our part to keep the importance of water conservation at the forefront."
Bolton said municipalities, industries, agencies and even households can use less water, but it starts with a mindset of conservation.
Canton Lake has historically drawn large numbers of anglers and has offered excellent fishing for several species, but it has been especially well known for its crappie and walleye fishing.
"It's crucial that we as a state start looking for solutions to making sure we do a better job at conserving water," Bolton said. "Our fisheries depend on it."
Canton Lake was impounded in 1948. To see a map of Canton Lake, log on tohttp://www.owrb.ok.gov/news/
News Contacts: Michael Bergin or Micah Holmes (405) 521-3856
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