Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

What’s Next for Failed ‘Lake’ Optima, the Oklahoma Reservoir That Never Filled?

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

State biologist Weston Storer points toward Lake Optima Dam and what's left of the reservoir.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built more lakes in Oklahoma than any other state. Some of those reservoirs struggle to fill, especially during drought, or end up holding more silt than water. But none have been a bigger failure than Lake Optima.

When construction finished in 1978, the federal government had spent about $50 million building the three-mile long dam near Guymon in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The lake project was supposed to attract millions of tourists and provide residents with drinking water and flood protection.

But the river that fed Optima dried to a trickle during the 10-year construction process, and has never been more than 5 percent full.

The Corps still spends money to maintain the dam, but no longer wants to. The question now is what to do with it.

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