Contractors working with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will close the portion of Polk County Road 125 that crosses the levee of Lake Wilhelmina Aug. 11 to attempt to plug leaking infrastructure that has plagued the lake for the last two summers.
Lake Wilhelmina is a 200-acre reservoir built on Powell Creek in Polk County. The lake’s dam was constructed in 1958. Wilhelmina is known for excellent bluegill and redear fishing, as well as good opportunities for largemouth bass and channel catfish.
“It’s not a large lake, but it’s a good location to fish and has a devoted following in nearby Mena,” Hobbs said.
According to Brett Hobbs, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Hot Springs Regional Office, helicopters will lower giant sandbags into place between the lake’s spillway control tower and levee to plug a hole that has formed in the lakebed, likely allowing water to escape through the outflow pipe at a point past the control tower’s influence.
“We first heard some comments from the public about the lake being unusually low back in summer of 2018,” Hobbs said. “That was a particularly dry summer, so we weren’t sure if it was just normal loss of water or something else at play. But in 2019, we had many more calls when the lake’s water level worsened, despite a fairly wet year.”
Hobbs says at one point in 2019, the lake’s level dropped low enough that boaters were no longer able to launch a boat.
“We did some more investigating in late summer 2019 and saw that although the control tower’s gates were closed, a healthy flow of water was still running in Powell Creek downstream of the dam,” Hobbs said. “We started looking with our sidescan and downscan depth finders and found what we thought were two holes in the lakebed between the control tower and the dam.”
Further investigation by the AGFC Dive Team using high-detail sonar equipment confirmed that there are holes in the lake bed, one as large as 7 feet in diameter and the other less than two feet in diameter, over the lake outflow pipe.
“We’ve coordinated with our Operations Division to procure a contractor who will help us hopefully stop the leak,” Hobbs said. “They will lower giant sandbags, up to 1,500 pounds, into the holes using a helicopter. Multiple sandbags will be placed. We hope this effort will plug the holes so a camera inspection can be made via the downstream end of the pipe to see what sort of damage may be there so we can formulate a solution.”
At 62 years old, much of the original infrastructure at Lake Wilhelmina has exceeded its life expectancy, and the AGFC may be looking at larger repairs in the future. Similar infrastructure failures forced the AGFC to begin the renovation of Lower White Oak Lake near Bluff City, Lake Elmdale in Springdale and Lake Poinsett near Harrisburg.
“We hope the repairs are not as extensive as what had to be done in those locations, but we won’t know until we can get this leak plugged to get a better look,” Hobbs said.