If you were born before 1950, you’re older than three-fourths of the lakes in Texas.
4. Canyon Lake
5. Lake Fork
8. Inks Lake
9. Caddo Lake
10. Lake Amistad
12. Lake Texoma
And let’s get this straight up front: Most “lakes” in Texas are actually reservoirs constructed for a variety of purposes such as flood control, irrigation, municipal water supply, and industrial use. Of the 187 reservoirs in Texas that hold 5,000 acre-feet of water or more, 138 were built following the drought of the 1950s, when a growing population demanded water, water, and more water.
Texas has only two large natural lakes, and both have been somewhat altered by humans. One—Caddo Lake, shared with Louisiana—is famous for its cypress sloughs and steamboating history, but the largest natural lake entirely in the state—Green Lake, south of Victoria—is virtually unknown.
But natural or constructed, all Texas lakes have this in common: We pretty much take them for granted.
Yet for the vast majority of Texans, lakes supply the water we drink and use to irrigate; they allow us to sail, ski, boat, and fish; and they provide scenic spots for us to live, camp, or simply watch the sunset. Texas lakes are such a part of our lives that we almost forget they are there, and how much we depend on them.
All over Texas, we’ve put reservoirs in places nature chose not to, and in so doing we’ve taken on the duties and responsibilities of parenthood.
As any parent can tell you, it’s not an easy job. Lakes fill with silt after heavy rains, become infested with invasive plants and animals, are drained by drought and thirsty urban lawns. We complain of their performance in dry times and accuse them of misbehavior when too much rain overfills them. We expect them to produce fish on demand, water everlasting, and fun never-ending. Like children, lakes are sometimes unable to live up to expectations. But oh, the joys when they shine.
Ask opinions on lakes from an angler who just pulled the biggest bass of his life from Lake Fork; or someone who’s seen the sun rise over Lake Somerville from horseback; or jogged along White Rock Lake in Dallas; or paddled a kayak across Old Folks Playground on Caddo in morning fog.
They will tell you what lakes mean to us. They are us. We are them. We run through their waters. Their waters run through us.
Lakes were built to be workhorses, but we’ve come to love them more as playmates. Recreation wasn’t why most reservoirs were built. Lake Naconiche near Nacogdoches is a new breed: a lake built solely for recreation. It supplies no faucet, wards off no flood, waters no crop. And yet it fulfills a need as important as any of those. It waters our souls.
Naconiche, like other reservoirs, covers land once lived on and loved by people and wildlife, a reminder that lakes not only give, they take away.
The loss of land cuts deep and reminds us that we are not the masters of water: Our need for water is master of us.
Like us, lakes get old, develop ills and infirmities, and need a helping hand now and again. One of the great challenges we face in the next half-century is keeping our lakes healthy and able to nourish future generations. Texas is a leader in a new movement, Friends of Reservoirs, designed to engage citizens and businesses in projects aimed at revitalizing aging reservoirs. You can learn more at www.waterhabitatlife.org.
The basic premise of Friends of Reservoirs is that our lakes, like our lives, are what we make them—and that neither can survive without the other.
We are bound by waters.
Larry Hodge is with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. He enjoys informing the public about recreational opportunities on Texas reservoirs. “It’s a tough job,” he says, “but you know … .”