Natural Resources Protection:

Reelfoot Lake Lease Terms Met, but Lake Continues to Deteriorate

RCED-92-99: Published: Aug 17, 1992. Publicly Released: Aug 17, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee, focusing on: (1) the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) compliance with its lease agreement with Tennessee; (2) the primary causes of the lake's deterioration; and (3) options for and barriers for improving the lake's condition.

GAO found that: (1) FWS responsibilities over Reelfoot Lake and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge include operations and maintenance, creation and maintenance of water circulation channels, siltation control and lake drainage, control of undesirable vegetation, and operation and maintenance of water control structures; (2) FWS has fulfilled its responsibilities under the lease agreement, contingent on funding availability; (3) causes for the lake's accelerated deterioration of wildlife habitat and increases in undesirable vegetation involve silt buildup from surrounding cropland and accumulation of undecomposed organic materials; (4) constructing additional silt retention basins, increasing the use of conservation and erosion control methods, acquiring and converting surrounding land for silt absorption, and dredging and excavating accumulated silt are all options for improving the lake's condition; (5) allowing fluctuations in the lake's water level would kill unwanted vegetation and consolidate silt; and (6) barriers to implementing lake improvements involve the high costs of improvements, resistance from landowners, and balancing competing interests.