Lake Wilhelmina dam upgrades underway

Lake Wilhelmina dam upgrades underway
(Source: AGFC)

(KAIT/AGFC) - MENA (KAIT/AGFC) - Anglers who frequent Lake Wilhelmina in Polk County have seen a little less of the lake than usual this year. The lake has been 5 feet low throughout spring and summer, waiting for upgrades to water-control structures.

"The lake has been 5 feet low since December, when it was drawn down to its normal winter level," said Jason Olive, assistant chief of fisheries management for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "We had planned to upgrade the structures that maintain water levels during the drawdown, but have been unable to finish work on them so far. With such a large watershed, these upgrades are extremely important to regulate water control on Wilhelmina and prevent flood issues. The lake can rise or fall quickly because of the many feeder creeks that flow into it during a rain."

The two water-control structures that regulate water levels on this 200-acre lake have been in place since 1958. The upgrades are necessary to prevent any catastrophic failures due to age and deterioration, which would require the lake to be drained to repair.

Although unsightly for the moment, the lake is still an excellent place to wet a line. Brett Hobbs, regional fisheries supervisor in the AGFC's Hot Springs office, says recent electrofishing surveys indicate the largemouth bass population is as healthy as it's ever been.

A courtesy dock at Lake Wilhelmina completely out of the water during the 5-foot drawdown. “Many people will look at a lowered lake and think the fish in it have been decimated,” Hobbs said. “But in reality, a short-term lack of water can help a fishery. Some grasses can grow on the shoreline, which will then offer some cover and help put some nutrients back into the water as they decompose when the lake is flooded. It’s not a major impact, but it will help the lake’s fertility.”

All upgrades are scheduled to be complete by the end of June, at which time the water-control structures will be closed to trap rainwater and refill the lake to normal level. Although construction has lasted into the typically drier part of the year, the lake's large watershed may be a benefit.

"That same condition of fast-rising water that makes it essential to upgrade the lake's infrastructure may help us out," Hobbs said. "It doesn't take long to fill this lake once the rain comes."

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