W ATER LEVEL HISTORY FOR EAGLE LAKE
Review Of Correspondence in MDWF&P Files
Eagle Lake is a 4,500-acre oxbow lake in Warren County, Mississippi and Madison Parish, Louisiana. The oxbow was created in 1866 from a cutoff from a bend of the Mississippi River (1). The lake was separated from the influence of the Mississippi River, first in 1925 with the construction of the mainline Mississippi River Levee, then in 1968 with the completion of the Steele Bayou Drainage Structure as part of the Big Sunflower River Basin and Yazoo Backwater Projects. The latter projects were responsible for changing the source of backwater to Eagle Lake from the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers to the pesticide- and sediment-laden Steele Bayou and Sunflower Rivers (2). In 1977, a structure was placed in the outlet of Eagle Lake (Muddy Bayou) to prevent the backwater from Steele Bayou from entering Eagle Lake.
In 1925 the construction of the Mainline Mississippi River Levee placed Eagle Lake on the protected side of the Levee. Prior to this time, the water level of Eagle Lake was directly influenced by the Mississippi River via connection to the river through Buck Chute. The construction of the Levee, and blockage of Buck Chute required that the Corps of Engineers create or enlarge the connection with Steele Bayou, known as Muddy Bayou. "Prior to the closing of Buck Cute the normal low water elevation of Eagle Lake was 75.6 Mean Gulf Level (MGL)". Muddy Bayou was cut to a bottom elevation of 73.3' (3).
"Following the high water of 1927- 29, the commercial fishermen and others using boats going in and out through Muddy Bayou used dynamite and blasted out all of the stumps in Muddy Bayou and loosened up the bottom to such an extent that it washed out, so that the water dropped to about 70 feet". In 1932, landowners agreed to placing a dam in Muddy Bayou with a top elevation of 74.13 feet MGL. This level was a compromise between those wanting the level at 70' and those wanting the level at 76 or 77 feet. The level chosen was from "...data from the U. S. Engineers Office and from the office of the Levee Board at Greenville, Mississippi, that the bottom of Eagle Pass or Buck Chute, at the time the levee was built was 74.13 feet ..." . The 1-1/2' difference in lake level and outlet bottom level was believed due to constriction of outlet flow in Buck Chute.
The revetment dam washed out several times. In 1946, it had a 3-foot deep washout and the revetment had apparently sunk. The rock dam was replaced in 1954 with a concrete dam. H.L. Tackett (Supervisor, Planning and Construction, MS Game and Fish Commission) requested in a September 13, 1968 memo, that immediate actions be taken to save the dam.
Fishing on Eagle Lake was very poor in 1964 (8,9). Requests were made to raise the level of the Lake, but easements would be necessary to do so (10). A request was also made in 1967 to regulate
the water levels in Eagle Lake by placing a gate and fish ladder in Muddy Bayou that would raise the water level 3 feet and limit fluctuation to 3 feet (11). The Mississippi River backed into Eagle
Lake at stages above 28 feet on the Vicksburg Gauge, and when there is a 6- to 8-foot rise in Eagle Lake with the strong prevailing winds, docks are destroyed and the banks slough off.
The MS Game and Fish Commission surveyed the lake in 1967 to determine what effect raising the
water level would have on the vegetation. The level on November 30, 1967 was 0.75 feet below the top of the existing dam with the top of the dam at 74.13 MGL. It was found that the "... water level could be raised 12 inches maximum above the existing level of the concrete dam in Muddy Bayou and not kill the willow growth on the islands and would flood a very small amount of land that is in pasture and cultivation". "It was found that if the water level was raised three feet above the top of the existing dam it would flood large areas of pasture land on Australia Island and would cover the islands completely to a depth of two feet which would kill the willow growth".
Also in 1967, the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce made an estimate of the property value on Eagle Lake. It was reported that Eagle Lake had 7 places that rent boats, rooms, hotel facilities and other recreational necessities, and approximately 150 privately-owned clubs and cottages were present. "The estimated valuation of the hotels, cottages and privately-owned clubs and business places used for fishing, hunting and recreational purposes is Two Million Three Hundred Thousand ($2,300,000.00) Dollars. Conservatively speaking, approximately Two Hundred Fifty Thousand ($250,000.00) Dollars per year are spent by sportsmen in Warren County who use this lake."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a General Rule Curve for Eagle Lake in association with the Muddy Bayou Mitigation Structure . The proposed FWS rule curve: maintain water level at 78' March 15 to June 15, then lower to 75' by July 15 and maintain this level until Sept. 15, at which time, if biologically necessary, the lake could be lowered to 70' by Oct. 15, or kept at 75' until Jan. 31, at which time the gates on the Steele Bayou structure would be opened to permit Yazoo/Mississippi River backwater to flood the sump and Eagle Lake to 78'. The water level was lowered to 75' beginning in mid-June "...to prevent the death of existing shoreline trees". People were worried about the change in the source of backwater flooding associated with the closure of Steele Bayou Structure in 1968, and the diversion of the Big Sunflower and Little Sunflower Rivers to Steele Bayou (13). The Warren County Board of Supervisors adopted a Resolution on October 10, 1968 in response to a petition presented by "...property owners of Eagle Lake Community along with numerous other citizens and sportsmen of said county and state ...''
The pertinent points of the petition were: 1) at stages above 74.07' Mean Sea Level (MSL) the Mississippi River backed up into Eagle Lake via the Yazoo River-Steele Bayou-Muddy Bayou; 2) most of the sediment of the river had deposited prior to entering Eagle Lake; 3) pesticides in the Mississippi River were not of a magnitude to be a serious threat to wildlife; 4) Steele Bayou water would be high in sediment and pesticides and would be deposited in Eagle Lake; 5) this sump water would be stored in Eagle Lake for 110 days; 6) a control structure needs to be built in Muddy Bayou to control water entering Eagle Lake; and 7) Eagle Lake is the best known lake in the state due to "...its reputation of being one of the best hunting, fishing, and resort areas of the State". The Warren County resolution requested that the Corps of Engineers place a water control structure in Muddy Bayou and not to close the flood gates of Steele Bayou until the Muddy Bayou structure was in operation.
Construction of the Muddy Bayou structure began in 1974, and this construction necessitated some drainage of the lake. A temporary plug was placed in Steele Bayou or Muddy Bayou in 1971.
The Muddy Bayou Control Structure became operational in 1977 with the following Rule Curve: Jan. 1 to June 15 flood Eagle Lake to 76.9' MSL; between June 15 and no later than July 15 open gates to lower the lake to 75.0' MSL "...to prevent damage to shoreline vegetation"; beginning Sept. 1 the lake level can be lowered to 70.0' MSL "if deemed necessary for biological reasons". Drawdowns were undertaken on Eagle Lake to 71' and 73' in 1978 and 1979, respectively. Also the Muddy Bayou gates were opened in April, 1979 to prevent high Steele Bayou water levels from damaging the Muddy Bayou Structure.
In August, 1979 a petition submitted by the Eagle Lake Property Owners Association and signed by 170 people, requested that the level of Eagle Lake be maintained at 76.9' through Labor Day. There were no objections to the increased level by the Agreement signatories. The original (75' July to Dec.) level was maintained in 1980, and 1981 obtaining a maximum water level of 76.5'. In July, 1982 complaints concerning shore erosion from the increased water level were voiced. An inspection of the shoreline by MDWC personnel confirmed the shoreline erosion. To improve the fishery, the MDWFP began an extensive 3-year stocking program in 1990. The objective was to develop a strong bass population to be used as predators in a September drawdown to reduce the rough fish. At least 200,000 Florida strain largemouth bass were stocked each spring in 1990 and 1991. But a population survey undertaken in summer, 1991 found few young bass and very few yearling bass.
In response to the poor improvement in bass stocks from the stocking program, the MDWPF modified its management program by including the management action of an August drawdown. The drawdown began on August 14, 1991 and reached a low point of 70.9' on October 19. The primary objective of the August, 1991 drawdown was to improve spawning conditions to promote production of a strong bass year class that could be used during a subsequent drawdown at a later date to assert predatory pressure on the fish population. During the 1991 drawdown a group, Committee to Save Eagle Lake, raised funds to plant the exposed mud flats with Japanese millet and Sudex to improve spawning conditions for bass and crappie.
1. Fleming, Rose E., July 1953. Bass Fishing on Eagle Lake. Mississippi Game & Fish Magazine. Vol. 16 (2): 4-5.
2. Towns, W. L., May 1969. Yazoo River (Lower Tributaries) Project Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report on Eagle Lake. U.S. Dept. Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta GA.
3. Correspondence of Lt. Col. Raymond Moses, District Engineer, USACOE to W.N. Miner, Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce, October 30, 1937.
4. Correspondence from W.S. Ramsey to Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce, March 15, 1946.
5. Warren County Deed Book 190, page 171, May 8, 1932.
6. Correspondence from W.S. Ramsey to Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce, March 15 , 1946.
7. April 4, 1955 correspondence of Spencer Smith, Chief of Fisheries, MS Game & Fish Commission to Hugh Morris.
8. March 23, 1965 correspondence from J .W. Vinson.
9. Feb. 23, 1965 correspondence of W.W. Wright to Governor Paul B. Johnson.
10. January 28, 1965 correspondence of Barry Freeman, Chief of Fisheries, MS Game & Fish Commission to Warren Co. Board of Supervisors.
11. March 8, 1957 correspondence Lake Committee, Vicksburg to George A. Morris, Chief District.
William W. Ramsey, Chairman, Eagle Chamber of Commerce to General Engineering Division, Vicksburg
12. Dec. l , 1967 correspondence H.L. Tackett, Supervisor, Planning and Construction, MS Game and Fish Commission to Billy Joe Cross, Executive Director, MS Game & Fish Commission.
13. October 24, 1968 correspondence Eustace Conway, Eagle Lake Water District to Colonel John W. Brennan, District Engineer, Vicksburg District.