By Jay Townsend
Photos by Preston Chasteen
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) is made up of 18 locks and dams, three different rivers and one manmade canal. All are managed to ensure year-round nautical navigation on the 445 mile system.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District manages the Oklahoma portion – five locks and dams and 137 miles of channel.
Down the Verdigris River from the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Oklahoma is the farthest upstream navigation structure on the MKARNS, Newt Graham Lock & Dam #18.
Construction on the project started in 1967 and was essentially completed in 1970 at an estimated cost of $43,400,000. The Lock 18 pool offers 24.8 miles of navigable waters between the lock and the Port of Catoosa.
A little over 18 miles down the Verdigris from Newt Graham is Chouteau Lock and Dam #17.
Chouteau is the last lock and dam structure on the Verdigris River before the navigation channel enters the main stem of the Arkansas River. Construction on the project started in 1966, and was essentially completed in 1970 at an estimated cost of $31,800,000. The lock and dam is named after the early Chouteau family. Col. Auguste P. Chouteau established the first permanent white settlement in Oklahoma at the present site of Saline, Oklahoma in 1796.
A little over 34 miles down the channel from Chouteau is Webbers Falls Lock and Dam #16.
In addition to navigation Webbers Falls Lock and Dam is also congressionally authorized for hydropower production. This is why the river upstream from the dam is referred to as Webbers Falls Reservoir. The water in the 10,900 surface acre reservoir is stored and allocated for hydropower production.
Webbers Falls Dam is a little over three miles upstream from the historic falls. The falls, referred to as “LaCascade” by General Zebulon Pike were reported in 1806 to be six or seven feet high at normal stage of the river.
Continuing downriver the next navigation structure is Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam #15.
Construction on the lock and dam began in April 1964. The project was put into operation in 1970. Like Webbers Falls, the Robert S. Kerr structure is congressionally authorized for hydropower production. The generators began supplying hydropower to the electric grid in 1971.
The projects original name was Short Mountain Lock and Dam. The name was changed before construction began in 1963 to Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam because of former governor and U.S. senator’s career-long commitment to the navigation project.
The fifth and final lock and dam on the MKARNS before the river flows in into Arkansas is W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam #14.
The stretch of the Arkansas River on which W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam is located was once a lawless, rugged area, identified on early maps as Indian Territory. Construction began on the project in in 1966 and was complete by 1970.
Named in honor of W. D. Mayo, late Sallisaw businessman, civic leader, and early champion of full development of the Arkansas River, this is the first lock and dam on the Arkansas River after the navigation channel leaves the state of Arkansas. It is located at navigation mile 319.6 in southeastern Oklahoma about nine miles southwest of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
DID YOU KNOW it takes roughly 48 hours for rain that falls above Newt Graham Lock and Dam to make it to the Oklahoma/Arkansas border? From there the water will pass through 13 locks and dams in Arkansas before it goes through the manmade Arkansas Post Canal and flows into the Mississippi River.