Sen. Laughlin listens to Lake Etling concerns

By C.F. David

Oklahoma State Senator Owen Laughlin played host to nearly 30 concerned citizens at Lake Carl Etling, on Nov. 10.

Laughlin, spurred by a calling campaign by a few Cimarron County citizens, came to listen to concerns and get ideas, on how to make the lake viable once more.

The lake, located in Black Mesa State Park , in the county's west end has been steadily losing water during the five year drought. This year, the spillway was opened by unknown person(s) and the drainage was completed even as Game and Fish made plans to empty the lake. Among those represented at the meeting were the Oklahoma Park Service, Game and Fish, Hatcheries, Oklahoma Economic Development Authority and the Cimarron County Commission, along with area ranchers and sportsmen.

Representatives from Game and Fish told Laughlin and the listeners that if the area received enough rain to fill all of the lake's 169 acres, that within three years, its problems with Salt Cedar and what is estimated to be an area of “muck” estimated to be 50 acres in area, and ten feet deep, would repair itself. The lake would “digest”the “muck” which is comprised of decaying leaves, and other plant matter. If covered by warming water, however, the “muck” will release nitrogen and methane in the spring, thereby killing any game fish such as bass, perch and trout. If a large, heavy rain comes, the salt cedar will, in three years drown under the lake.

Cimarron County Commissioner Bill Percifield told the group that Cimarron County had worked at their expense last year to clear the lake bottom of some of the salt cedar and had begun to build jetties.

“What needs to be done? Laughlin asked. “and I know the government is good at passing the buck,” he added.

Rancher Alan Shields slapped the table top and turned to a representative of the Park Service, “What would you do today,” he asked.

“Tourism hasn't the ability to make the lake viable,” he answered.

“I've always felt that if we just cleaned out the streams, someday, it will rain again,” said former County Agent Ted Smith.

The destruction of salt cedars, and even cottonwoods were recommended by some. Salt Cedar, or Tamarack, is an ornamental plant introduced in the early 1900s. It was and is popular because it's hardy. However it is also a thirsty plant. It is estimated each one using an estimated 78 gallons of water per day.

Ted Smith said he had no problem with destroying the salt cedar; but that wholesale destruction of the cottonwoods was a different matter. “It takes forever to grow a tree around here,” he pointed out.

Game Ranger Rusty Menefee pointed out that Cimarron County and the Black Mesa State park are home to a wide variety of birds and that total destruction of cottonwoods would be frowned on by bird watchers.

Shields recommended a concerted effort to control the salt cedar with chemical applications begining this winter, “We need to do it this winter. We can't wait six months for a plan. Forget it and let's go to work. if we get the right rain we can fill the lake in one day.”

Game and Fish representatives pointed out that spring was the best time to kill the cedars, when new growth came out; but that, is an expensive process, about $300 an acre.

Rancher Don Prather pointed out that as long as the lake had a population of beaver, that salt cedar wasn't a problem. Prather made the statement that the streams and lake bed became congested with vegetation after the beaver had been either killed or removed. (By the state.)

The lake, and its immediate surrounding area is shared by tourism, wildlife, and the state school land commission(s).

Laughlin said that it was his belief that the state school land commission become involved in the solution, “...in a big way finiancially.” (The school land commission was not represented at the meeting.)

Laughlin also pointed out that the use of Oklahoma Department of Corrections “trusty” inmates was a possibility. They could be housed at the lake and Texas County Sheriff Arnold Peoples had the personnel to guard them. They could be used to repair boat docks, remove and spray unwanted vegetation and clear the streams and channels.

County commissioner John Freeman said he thought a lot of people were willing to help, but hadn't been asked.

Rancher Bobby Apple asked if there were any plans to clean out some of the natural springs that had fed the lake.

A Wildlife representative told the group, and Laughlin that prioritization was important in any plan. Would the removal of the “muck” be the first priority, or the removal of salt cedar? Others questioned from where the funds would come to do anything.

It was tentativley decided that removal of the salt cedar and the “muck” was most important to the plan. Next would be the removal of only the cottonwoods which were diseased and new growth, leaving older, well established trees, so that the bird population wouldn't be adversly affected.

Also, the re-introduction of beaver to keep the trees under control.

“If you get water in the lakes and streams, the beaver will follow,” Menefee said.

“I'm going to go back and twist some arms, and see if we can get some money,” Laughlin said. “Could we funnel the money through the O.E.D.A.,” he asked?

“If it [the lake] was 200 miles further east, they'd find the money,” Smith said.

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