Lake Lawtonka Officially Put On Oklahoma’s Mercury Advisory List
If you've ever driven through the refuge, you may have or not have seen the signs warning visitors about potentially toxic levels of the mercury content of the fish in the Wichita Mountain lakes.
The heavy metal somehow gets into these lakes, bacteria transform the element into an even more toxic version of it, and it slowly works its way up the food chain as fish consume it. At the end of the chain is us, and we're advised to either not eat or limit our meals of contaminated fish.
For the longest time, the state has insisted that mercury levels are so elevated in the refuge lakes due to a short-lived gold rush that happened a hundred years ago... but as more testing is done, there's a pattern of mercury contamination around Fort Sill.
The last time the ODEQ released its findings, the lakes that are local to Lawton hadn't yet been tested. As of May 2023, they have.
Lake Lawtonka has officially been put on the mercury advisory list due to elevated levels of the heavy metal within the food chain.
Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, and saugeye were all confirmed to be contaminated with mercury above a certain size. Crappie, bluegill, flathead, and channel catfish tested clean in this lake.
In contrast, if you were to travel to Lake Ellsworth just thirteen away, ODEQ testing proved the fish to be clean throughout the entire food chain.
There was a similar result for other newly-tested lakes across Southwest Oklahoma including Lake Fuqua near Duncan.
While it's not relevant to the SWOK mercury contamination in lakes, it is curious that one specific lake in Northern Oklahoma tested so clean.
While Sooner Lake does have a mercury advisory in place for flathead catfish over 25 inches in length, the other species in that body of water tested completely clean.
What's so weird about that? Sooner Lake is a reservoir that is used in the generation of power at OG&E's (Oklahoma Gas & Electric) Sooner Power Plant. The lake quite literally flows into and out of the plant to generate power. It's a popular winter fishing lake since the discharge side of the lake is usually much warmer than all of the other area lakes.
If you were to Google "How does mercury get into fish," you'll read about how power plants are a top contributor to mercury contamination, tho it's worth noting the Sooner Plant uses coke--a hotter-burning and cleaner coal-like byproduct of oil and gas refining--instead of natural coal to create power.
If you'd like to know what you're eating out of your own local Oklahoma lake, click here to read the reports and advisories issued thus far.