Officials: El Dorado Lake releases will make Walnut River dangerous

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Officials say water releases from El Dorado Lake will make for dangerous conditions on the Walnut River.

The city's department of public utilities said the Army Corps of Engineers planned to release at a rate of 4,200 cubic feet per second Thursday afternoon. That equals about 1.7 million gallons per minute or 2.7 billion per day. It's close to a record release.

It was just one of several rate increases Thursday.

"This will create very dangerous conditions on the Walnut River," El Dorado police said on social media. "Please keep yourselves and those who may have to rescue you safe by avoiding the water."

Kurt Bookout with the city on Wednesday tweeted a video of what 2,100 CFS looks like. 

“That’s about as much water as we use in an entire year being released in one day,” said Kurt Bookout with the El Dorado Public Works department about the water the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing through the lake’s spillway.

“It’s a lot of water. It’s a lot of water,” said Nancy West who’s camping out at EL Dorado Lake this week.

“That’s a lot of water. That’s a lot of water,” agreed Jon Hastings, who lives nearby and came out to do some fishing Thursday morning.

It’s a sight no one’s seen since the 1990s.  The Army Corps of Engineers is increasing how much water it’s releasing from the El Dorado Dam to record levels, the end goal about 4200 CFS or cubic feet per second of water.

“That’s equal to about 1.8 million gallons per minute,” Bookout said. “Which is also equal to about 2.7 billion gallons per day being released.”:

A record amount of water and perhaps only the third time it’s ever been seen.

“I have seen it higher, though,” West said about the water levels in the Walnut River below the spillway.  “Yeah a long time ago. Probably more than 20 years.”

The noise and the power of so much water pouring out of the dam at one time drew dozens of curious sight seers throughout the day.

“I’d read earlier today that they’d been releasing a lot of water the last couple weeks cause of all the rain,” said Hastings.  “And I saw that they were…going to open up the gates even more today.  So that’s why I came out.”

They came to watch and, for many, to fish.  Along with all that water come a lot of fish fishermen hope to take home for supper.  Though sometimes that’s easier said than done.

“This current’s really strong so it can… like what I’m doing here… it moves around. So you can get snagged in the rocks pretty easy,” Hastings said.  “But… it’s what you have to do to, you know, to get to where the fish are.”

Professionals also came out to watch and monitor the increased flow.

Kurt Bookout is responsible for the City of El Dorado’s portion of the lake’s water.  He stays in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers and monitors activity at the spillway.

Bookout says without draining the excess waters from the lake at this extra fast pace, the already flooded lake is in danger of heading places it’s never gone before, out an uncontrolled spillway on the East end of the lake, and from there, who knows where.

“It’s unusual for the lake to be up this much,” Bookout said about the more than 7 feet of flooding currently at El Dorado Lake.  “This is about the third highest the lake level has ever been.”

At the rate of drainage through Thursday morning, the lake was falling about three inches a day. At the goal rate of 4200 CFS, that should increase to 6 inches a day.  And they’re expecting rain in the area over the weekend.

“That’s why they’re trying to get rid of it, so that they’ll have that space available,” Bookout explained.  “Really we only had probably another foot, foot and a half of space available before.  So if we were to get a 4 inch rain this weekend and the lake would take another three feet, it may actually overfill and go out the uncontrolled spillway, which is at the east end of the dam”

The Army Corps of Engineers monitors water levels in the lake, feeder streams and rivers, as well as overall rainfall, to determine how much it can release and when it needs to let more of the water flow downstream.

“That’s what they built these reservoirs for, you know? Part of it is flood control,” Hastings said.  “And even then, you get a lot of rain…you still have flooding,.  Makes you wonder, you know, or realize how bad it would be without…flood control dams.”