Table Rock Lake – a flood of fun preventing floods

Table Rock Dam is an inspiring sight to see and hear when all ten of its flood gates are partially open.

“Table Rock Lake is one of the major things making Branson the unique wonderful entertainment destination it is,” said Tammy Johnson, the Director of Operations for the Branson Tourism Center. “Most of the Branson visitors boating, swimming, fishing or otherwise enjoying the recreation provided by its normally calm and placid 43,500 acres of  water and 745 miles of shoreline would be surprised to know that recreation is just a by-product of Table Rock Lake and not one of the primary reasons it exists.”

Table Rock Lake is an impoundment of the White River behind the 6,423 foot long Table Rock Dam (Dam). The Dam itself consists of a 1,602 foot concrete section, containing its 531 foot spillway with ten flood gates and 4,821 feet of earth embankment. The enabling legislation for the building of Table Rock Dam (Dam), the “Flood Control Act of 1941,” states that its purpose is for “flood control and hydroelectric power, and other beneficial water uses.” The Dam was built for the primary purpose of controlling the flooding that had been plaguing Branson, Hollister and other areas downstream from its current location for eons and to generate hydroelectric power. Recreational and other uses fall under “other beneficial uses” and are always secondary to flood control and hydroelectric power generation.

Although the Dam and its ten floodgates are imposing, they do not provide the primary flood control or any of the hydroelectric power generated at the Dam. In fact, the flood gates are used very infrequently and in all the years of their existence the most that has ever been run through them has not equaled the maximum amount that could have been run through just one gate.

Each of the gates is capable to releasing up to 55,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) for a total of 550,000 cfs, but the most that has every been run through the gates at any one time is about 46,500 cfs. That happened during April of 2008 when Table Rock Lake crested at an elevation of 933.25 feet. Prior to that time the most that had ever been released through the flood gates was 31,000 cfs when Table Rock crested at 932.5 feet in 1961. All ten of the flood gates have been used at times, but they have just been partially opened and the total discharge has never exceeded the maximum discharge for just one gate.

Interestingly, it is the very same thing that draws hundreds of thousands to Table Rock Lake for recreation and relaxation every year, its 43,500 acres of water, that is the primary flood control tool. The 43,000 acres of water equates to 760,000 acre feet of water storage which is held by the Dam and released, the vast majority of time, through its four hydroelectric power generating units. Each unit is capable of generating 50,000 kilowatts of power and releasing about 3,750 cfs of water for a total of about 200,000 kilowatts of power for hydroelectric generation and up to 15,000 cfs of water for flood control purposes.

In general terms, from a flood control perspective, the Corps controls how water is discharged when the level of Table Rock Lake exceeds the Top of the Power Pool which is an elevation of 915 feet or what many refer to as “normal.” Below the Top of the Power Pool and down to a level of 881 feet the Southwest Power Administration controls the discharge through the generators as it generates hydroelectric power. Typically, the infrequent use of the floodgates will happen as the water levels get closer to the top of the Flood Pool which is 931 feet, but the vast majority of the time, when water is between 915 and 931 feet, flood control is handled by releasing water through the generators and is virtually transparent to those using Table Rock Lake.

From a recreational perspective, the ideal level of the lake is 915 because it provides plenty of water with minimum exposure to hidden obstacles and other dangers. Although one should always be alert as to water depth and obstacles, that is even more so as the water levels drop exposing obstacles that were previously covered or covering obstacles that were previously exposed. It should be pointed out that the level of Table Rock Lake is currently 906.60 which is almost 10 feet below normal.

Another recreational aspect of the Table Rock Dam is that its releases through its generators form the Headwaters of Lake Taneycomo, one of the finest Rainbow and Brown Trout fisheries in the Midwest. The water being passed through its generators comes from about 140 feet below the surface of Table Rock Lake and has an average temperature in the mid 40s. This helps create a perfect environment for trout. Recognizing this as the Dam was being built, the Missouri Department of Conservation built the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery at the foot of the Dam Each year it releases hundreds of thousands of trout into Lake Taneycomo which makes it
one of the most easily accessible, consistent, and outstanding trout fishing experiences available anywhere.

“In providing its flood control and hydroelectric generation functions in an almost transparent manner to those using the lake for recreation, Table Rock Lake has become an important part of what makes Branson the unique, fun filled, entertaining and exciting place that it is,” Branson Tourism Center’s Johnson said. “Where else, can a person find a lake like Table Rock Lake that is but minutes away from spectacular live shows, exciting attractions, great shopping and a variety of entertainment and other activities except in Branson, Missouri?