Breakdown: Why Sardis Lake is more than just a recreational resource

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 11:54 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Located about an hour south of Memphis Sardis Lake: A 98,520-acre reservoir stretching through Panola, Lafayette and Marshall counties in beautiful Northwest Mississippi.

The lake is popular with anglers and has a reputation for its abundant bass and crappie. Other recreation activities include hunting, camping, boating, skiing, swimming and picnicking.

However, the lake has a rich history, and many visitors to Sardis Lake do not know it was created as a means of flood control.

In the early spring of 1927 one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States occurred.

The Mississippi River flood of 1927, also called Great Flood of 1927, submerged more than 23,000 square miles of land.

In the aftermath, the flood left an estimated 750,000 people without food and water, clothing, or work, and some 250 people died.

In response to the devastating floods of 1927, Congress passed the 1928 Flood Control Act, and later the 1936 Flood Control Act.

These two Acts would be the cornerstone in the undertaking to tame the mighty Mississippi and its primary tributaries.

Construction on Sardis Dam began in the mid 1930′s.

Becoming operational in October 1940, the dam embodied some of the most advanced design and construction methods of its day.

The dam protects agricultural and industrial areas downstream by controlling the flow of water from the Little Tallahatchie River.

Plaque at Sardis Dam
Plaque at Sardis Dam(

The most unique aspect of the dam’s construction was the use of “hydraulic fill” techniques. This required that soil be dredged from the river below the dam site and pumped up to provide the earth fill that forms the major portion of the dam.

To facilitate this, the Corps built and operated the “Pontotoc”, a special dredge powered by two 3000 hp electric motors.

At 15,300 feet in length, and with an average height of 97 feet, Sardis Dam was for many years the largest earth-filled type in the world, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Using the hydraulic-fill method for construction, the dredge Pontotoc pumped soil from below the dam creating a 472 acre Lower Lake.

Sardis Lake has a maximum storage capacity of 1,512,000 acre-feet of water, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Aerial view of Sardis Dam and upper and lower lakes, near Batesville and Sardis, Miss.
Aerial view of Sardis Dam and upper and lower lakes, near Batesville and Sardis, Miss.(Boston Public Library)

The lake is gradually drawn down during the fall and winter months to a “conservation pool” of 9,800 acres. This allows Spring rains across the lake’s 1,545 square miles watershed to fill the reservoir without flooding downstream.

Sardis Lake has performed its flood control mission admirably well. Since it became operational, the dam’s overflow spillway has only been placed into operation during the flood years of 1973, 1983 and 1991. The lake’s normal “recreation pool” is 32,500 acres.

For more than 80 years Sardis Lake has protected the Mississippi Delta from flooding from the Little Tallahatchie River.

Come explore and discover for yourself our forest, lakes and recreational activities. For a complete listing of all we have to offer look over the rest of our web site and start planning your next getaway today.

Additionally, the natural environment surrounding Sardis Lake is a diverse ecosystem.

As the rolling hills give way to vast hardwood river bottoms, the landscape captures a scene of beauty and serenity.

Forest resources at Sardis Lake comprise approximately 44,000 acres.

The placement and preparation of nesting structures has been a common practice implemented at Sardis Lake. Bluebird, Wood Duck, and Purple Martin nesting structures can be found at Sardis Lake. The nesting structures are often placed at Sardis Lake with the assistance of local volunteers.

Wildlife food plots are planted and maintained yearly at Sardis Lake. These areas provide nutrition for White-tail deer, Bobwhite quail, Eastern wild turkey, migrating waterfowl species, rabbit, dove, raccoon and squirrel. Some of the planted crop species are sorghum, soybeans, chufa, millet, clover, wheat and corn.

Prescribed burns are used to remove undesirable vegetation from the forest floor of hardwood and pine timber stands. The controlled burns are used to reduce the amount of combustible materials available in the event of an uncontrolled wildfire. These controlled burns also remove litter from the forest floor allowing for new vegetation growth in the area. The new growth provides natural forage and browse for many game species, as well as, cover and feeding opportunities for ground-nesting game birds. Controlled burns are also used as a site preparation tool to clear an area of undesirable vegetation to be planted with more desirable tree species.

The Natural Resource Management personnel at Sardis Lake believe the best way to educate Americans about the environment is to involve them in activities that promote stewardship and preservation.

Environmental Stewardship Events

  • Annual Bald Eagle Survey: The Sardis Lake Annual Bald Eagle Survey began in 1982. The survey is conducted in January each year. Volunteers and Sardis Lake staff tally the numbers of mature and immature Bald Eagles at several areas on the Sardis Lake Project. The numbers are then compiled and the volunteers are each given an event t-shirt and provided lunch. The survey provides valuable data on the number of eagles that frequent Sardis Lake each year, as well as, an opportunity for volunteers to view our nation’s national emblem in its natural habitat.
  • Fish Habitat Day: Each December, volunteers alongside Sardis Lake staff gather to place discarded Christmas Trees into the lake bed while the lake is at conservation pool level. With the help of local businesses, cities, and citizens, hundreds of discarded Christmas Trees are placed in various areas around the lake. As spring rains bring a rising lake level, the trees are submersed creating much needed habitat for many fish species. The habitat provides cover for spawning fish species and their young and offers protection for young or small fish from predator species. As Sardis Lake continues to age and due to the fluctuating water levels each year, underwater habitat is gradually lost. Through events like Fish Habitat Day, habitat is restored at a more rapid pace than it is lost, thus providing a more enjoyable fishing experience and quality fish habitat at Sardis Lake.
  • Adopt-A-Stream: The Adopt-A-Stream program is a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Sardis Lake and local schools. The program is conducted at Toby Tubby and Hurricane Creeks and offers students an opportunity to collect water quality data for the tributaries to Sardis Lake.
  • Interpretive Services and Outreach/Education Programs: Interpretive Programs have long been an integral part of Visitor Assistance at Sardis Lake. Programs are conducted in a variety of setting; such as boat ramps, swimming beaches, pavilions and local schools, churches and businesses. The topics of these programs include water and boating safety, environmental stewardship, natural resource management, and native wildlife. Each year thousands of people are educated on the above-mentioned topics through the use of Outreach Programs by Sardis Lake employees.
  • Clean Up Day: Clean Up Day is an annual event held at Sardis Lake. Each year, participants from local schools and communities volunteer their time to remove litter and debris from areas on the Sardis Lake Project. The event has proven to be one of the most beneficial events promoted at Sardis Lake. Several thousand pounds of litter is removed from the lakeshore each year improving the aesthetic value of natural areas around the project.

Through various environmental programs and events, local citizens are able to give back to their communities, protect Sardis Lake resources and have fun!

For more information about volunteer opportunities, contact the Sardis Lake Field Office at (662) 563-4531.

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