Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation

Dry summer once again shows dry river bottoms

From the Desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle

November 2011

Our Choctaw elders are very wise. They share our history through stories – and as I was a youth, those stories were fun to listen to and I would ask that they be told again and again. Now, I realize the importance of the “lessons” and “culture” of our families and our tribe as these verbal treasures pass down from generation to generation. Some of the stories and legends are known throughout the tribe and others are simply in families, but I encourage all of you to share your father’s and your mother’s stories with children and grandchildren.

My dad told me that during the Great Depression the Kiamichi stopped flowing down by Antlers where his family had a dairy. The men and boys would take pics and shovels to dig trenches in the riverbed to get the pooled water to flow to the pump stations. History has repeated itself with the drought this year, stopping the flow in places on the beautiful Kiamichi. I walked down across part of the riverbed this month on stones washed smooth from many years of the rushing stream, now bone-dry, reminding me of my father’s long ago story.

I asked some of the staff in the tribal land management offices to do some research on how often the riverbed had went dry. Our state hasn’t had a great deal of data-based information available for water in the southeastern part of Oklahoma for them to glean from, but what they found was fascinating, and I thought it was worth sharing.

The Kiamichi River Basin is unfortunately susceptible to drought. The recorded data for stream flow is accurate; however the gauging stations have only been placed in relatively recent years.

Stream Gages on Kiamichi and installation dates:
Big Cedar – 1965
Clayton – 1980
Antlers – 1972
Belzoni (lower Kiamichi) – 1925-1971 (no longer monitoring)

A feature of the Kiamichi River is its very low stream flow in late summer into winter. This is due to the obvious lack of precipitation but also to its geomorphology or the shape, contours, gravel bars, bank height, and elevation changes of the river. It may retain pools or pockets of water but have no recorded flow. This may even occur in relatively ‘wet’ years to some degree.

A more intriguing tale may be to examine the duration of drought or zero flow levels. It is important to remember that Hugo Lake and Sardis Lake were completed in 1974 and 1982 respectively. This is significant because the USACE can release water and affect stream flow.

Big Cedar, on the upper basin of the river.
Recorded No Flow – 35 times for a duration longer than 20 days since 1965 and 50+ consecutive days in 2011
Clayton – Gage station is below mouth of Jackfork Creek (USACE is currently discharging 12 cfs from Sardis)
Recorded No Flow – 5 times for a duration longer than 20 days since 1983 and 0 days in 2011.
Recorded No Flow – 8 times for a duration longer than 20 days since 1972 and 43 days in 2011
Belzoni – Not operational since 1972 (Hugo Lake)
Recorded No Flow – 11 times for a duration longer than 20 days since 1925

Given this data that the Kiamichi River experiences almost regular no flow periods; it is important to keep in mind the climate forecast for the upcoming seasons. Illustrated here:

This depicts a trend leading toward less steady rainfall and intensifying drought.

Statistics of note – The Belzoni Gage, the only gage on the river until 1965 prior to any impoundment, recorded a period of 55 days in 1954 and 89 days in 1956 with zero flow occurring in that duration.

In conclusion, it is difficult to determine whether the Kiamichi River has ever dried up. Through gage data there is evidence of periods that the river ceased to run. Through regulation by the Corps of Engineers and conservation efforts of other agencies we still experience years of drought. The Jackfork Creek and other feeder streams into Sardis Lake have had little to no flow for some time now. No monitoring systems are available for these streams at this time.

As the process of establishing a water plan progress’s our knowledge and information such as this will improve and become more readily available.


Data obtained from