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DeGray Dam and Lake

DeGray Dam, located about eight miles northwest of Arkadelphia (Clark County), impounds the 13,400-acre DeGray Lake on the Caddo River. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for purposes of electricity generation and flood control, as well as establishing a drinking water supply for Arkadelphia, and is the first “pump back capable impoundment” in the Corps’s history. A reregulation dam forms a 400-acre impoundment below the main lake, providing a supply of water that can be pumped back into DeGray Lake during times of drought and used again for hydropower generation and to provide a steady flow of water on the Caddo River.

The site where DeGray Dam stands had been considered for a dam since 1909, when Harvey Couch, founder of Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L), reportedly visited the area to consider it for one of his projects. In the 1930s, the federal government carried out geological studies in the area, though nothing came of it. Congress finally authorized a dam there in the 1950 River and Harbors Act, though the Korean War delayed the funding of the project. In November 1955, the USACE held a hearing in Arkadelphia attended by Senator John McClellan and Congressman Oren Harris, both proponents of the project. Congress included the dam in the 1959 Water Supply Act but failed to attach any funding to it. Finally, in 1961, money was appropriated for the project.

Original plans for DeGray Dam entailed a smaller reservoir of 11,800 acres, but these were later revamped to make maximum use of available resources. Engineers also hoped to avoid the controversy that beset Greers Ferry Dam in northern Arkansas and installed measures to allow for the regulation of the water released through the dam, so as to preserve fish populations downstream. Planners eventually decided to include a 3,400-foot earthen dam, the largest of its kind in Arkansas, rising 243 feet above the river bed, as well as a three-mile earthen dike. Part of Highway 7 was diverted to run atop this dike.

Farrell Construction Company of Brinkley (Monroe County) was given the contract to build the access road to the area, as well as a 300-foot concrete bridge. Winston Brothers Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Green Construction Company of Des Moines, Iowa, were contracted to drill a 1,700-foot tunnel through solid rock for the diversion of the Caddo River; this project took twenty-eight months, from early 1964 to the summer of 1966, and was a permanent detour of the river, with the turbines being placed at the lower end of the tunnel later on. Potashnick Construction Company of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, constructed the dam and dike, while the spillway was built by Arkansas Rock and Gravel Company of Murfreesboro (Pike County).

Evacuation of the reservoir area began in June 1966, around the time drilling on the tunnel was completed. On August 8, 1969, the gate was closed on DeGray Dam, filling the reservoir and generating the power to be used for the final period of construction. DeGray Dam included a 40,000-kilowatt conventional turbine as well as a 28,000-kilowatt reversible turbine. It was dedicated on May 20, 1972. Final costs for the entire project were approximately $64 million. More than 7 million cubic yards of compacted earthen fill were used for its construction.

Though built primarily for the generation of hydropower, DeGray Dam provided some indirect navigational benefits for the Ouachita River, into which the Caddo River empties north of Arkadelphia. However, another significant benefit has been an increase in tourism to the area. The USACE built numerous campgrounds and boat ramps around the reservoir, and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism reached an agreement with the USACE in November 1971 for the construction and management of a resort area on the north shore of the lake, establishing what is now DeGray Lake Resort State Park. The lake hosts numerous fishing tournaments and is home to robust populations of stripers, crappie, and catfish.

For additional information:
“50-Year Dream to Culminate in Dedication of DeGray Dam.” Arkansas Gazette. May 18, 1972, p. 25A.

DeGray Lake. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. http://www.mvk.usace.army.mil/Lakes/ar/degray/ (accessed September 30, 2009).

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 10/17/2012

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