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Nation’s man-made federal lakes could be used more, panel says.

July 1999

Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch News

U.S. provides insufficient money, doesn’t push recreation, report adds.

The nation’s 1,782 man-made federal lakes, created to boost power, grow crops and control floods, have great untapped potential for fishing, boating and other recreation, a presidential commission has concluded.

Congress and federal agencies, however, pay little attention to recreation and provide insufficient money to maintain facilities that are deteriorating, the National Recreation Lakes Study Commission said in a recent study.

Lake managers often make recreation their lowest priority because of laws, agency policies and a "corporate culture" that values traditional uses of reservoirs such as navigation and irrigation, commission members said.

"In a lot of cases, it appears (recreation) is being ignored," said Richard Davies, commission vice chairman and director of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.

But as the population rises and outdoor amusement becomes more popular, the lakes’ potential for recreational activities has become as important as the traditional uses, the commission found.

"They’re great national treasures," said Tom Strickland, U.S. attorney for Colorado and a commission member. "They generate enormous social benefits in terms of recreation and just play opportunities."

The lakes, found in 47 states, resulted from massive public works projects primarily from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.

California leads the nation with 144 such lakes. Missouri has 32 and Illinois 31. In states adjourning Missouri, Kentucky has 59, Tennessee 49, Arkansas 38, Nebraska 31, Kansas 26 and Iowa 17, the report said.

Many of the Lakes were built with adjacent campgrounds and beaches, but the commission found that restrooms, boat docks and roads are falling apart, the report said.

Pollution is a problem 
Many lakes are polluted, and sport fishing suffers because fish are dying.

Federal recreation funding from lakes has been shrinking, to $839 million in 1998 from $889 million in 1994 for the seven largest agencies that manage them.

In turn, dwindling budgets have contributed to a maintenance backlog of more than $800 Million at the lakes, the report found.

Even where lakes have active tourism, managers face difficult tasks in balancing recreation and other lake uses.

At Lake Mead near Las Vegas, the largest reservoir in North America at 180,000 acres, water levels can vary by as much as 50 feet depending on water demand, snow levels and diversions for flood-control storage.

That means boat docks have to be moved in and out and rest rooms can end up under water.

The commission has been authorized by Congress in 1999 to assess lake recreation and look at ways to improve it. It made recommendations to address the problems. These included:

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