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Oklahoma Adds Circulators to Canton Lake

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A collaborative effort aimed at supporting the Canton Lake fishery culminated June 24 with the installation of two reservoir water circulators in that important northwestern Oklahoma lake.

Chas Patterson, Northwest Region fisheries supervisor with the Wildlife Department, said the plan to use the circulators came out of meetings involving the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the City of Oklahoma City and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Concerns about the sustainability of the Canton Lake fishery prompted the discussions after three significant drawdowns of water were made in recent years to address water supply needs for Oklahoma City, which owns the water rights to the lake.

Patterson said the agencies agreed to try out two solar-powered water circulation pumps to evaluate whether they can help sustain the fish population during the hot and stagnant summer months. The Corps provided technical data about the units and researched how the units could help the Canton Lake fishery.

During the six-month lease trial, Wildlife Department personnel will take water quality samples at various times to gauge whether the circulators are affecting dissolved oxygen, temperature and algae production.

Barry Bolton, Fisheries Division chief with the Wildlife Department, said the goal of this effort is to preserve the Canton Lake fishery so that recreational opportunity will not be lost, and so the Wildlife Department will not have to begin a multi-year process to restock fish into the lake.

"This recreational fishery out here in northwest Oklahoma is one of the best. The best walleye fishery, and sand bass, catfish -- we've got it all," Bolton said. Referring to the most recent drawdown of the lake, he said, "The city of Oklahoma City realized they were having some impacts. They stepped up to the plate and paid for the lion's share of this."

Oklahoma City officials expressed optimism that the circulators can have positive effects on both the fishery and the quality of the water supply.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said the city's support for the Canton reservoir circulators is a win-win for those concerned about recreation and others concerned about drinking water.

"I think the investment in these circulators shows the we're committed to Canton Lake for all sorts of uses," Cornett said. "The city is hoping that this will create a healthier lake. A healthier lake means a better water supply. And a healthier lake means more fish and wildlife in the lake.

"Canton Lake means a lot of things to a lot of people, but it's certainly important to us. I think there's mutual gain here for all interested parties."

Monte Hannon, water quality superintendent for Oklahoma City, said the city is sensitive to the effects that taking water out of Canton can have on recreational uses, primarily fishing. "We try to schedule our takes at such a time that it does not interfere with the activities at the lake ... and the recreational season," he said.

Hannon said that Oklahoma City's most recent water drawdown from Canton Lake has had a greater effect because there has been virtually no rain since then to recharge the lake.

The reservoir circulators, sitting on a parking lot before being placed into the lake, resembled something akin to a Voyager spacecraft. Each unit has three "legs" to which large black floats are attached. A large bowl-like dish opens upward in the center, and three angled solar panels ring the top edge of the machine.

A truck with a hoist was used to carry each unit to the end of a boat ramp and lower it into the water. Then a boat was used to tow it to the spot where it was anchored. Patterson said the units were positioned in several of the deeper areas of the lake. One is in the river channel in the center of the lake about a half-mile north of the dam, and the other is near the dam.

Steve Shanabarger of SolarBee in Dickinson, N.D., said the circulators are nearly maintenance-free. The 20-volt solar panels keep the battery charged, and a regulator allows the pump motor to operate constantly, even at night. The floating units are marked with warning signs, pylons and flashing beacons.

Once the units are anchored in the lake, a flexible intake tube is lowered to a predetermined depth. When the unit is powered on, an auger-like blade spins to pull water up through the tube and force it out over the lip of the bowl. This way, water from deeper levels is circulated up and out into shallower levels of the lake. The intake tube has a flexible shield just below it so that the unit will not disturb nutrients found at the lake bottom.

Shanabarger said each unit moves about 10,000 gallons of water each minute and can treat an area of about 35 acres. He said the company has about 3,000 circulators installed and working in lakes across the country.

In addition to "collecting" a great many lures from unlucky anglers, the circulators have also been known to save not just fish but also human lives, Shanabarger said. He told of several episodes when boaters had run into trouble on the water and were able to swim to the floating units and climb up on them to avoid drowning.