Last summer (the rain-drenched summer of 2010), Lake Delhi ceased to exist. Located in eastern Iowa, the lake was kept in place by a dam. In late July, a 24-hour period of intense rain (more than 10″ fell) simply overwhelmed the dam, collapsing it and sending millions of gallons of water downstream.
In general, I’m guessing this is the most common way lakes become “non-lakes”. We’ve seen it in our stories of Johnstown, the St. Francis Dam, and the dam that held back Lawn Lake. I’m sure there are more incidents like those…there are lots of dams in the world.
But Lake Peigneur wasn’t drained by a dam failure. Lake Peigneur, located in southern Louisiana roughly 100 miles west of New Orleans, doesn’t even have a dam. But back in 1980, it did have an active salt mine below it. And then Texaco showed up, wanting to drill below the lake and search for oil.
And much like those old Reeses Peanut Butter Cup commercials – you know, the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” commercials – Texaco and the Diamond Crystal Salt Company got all mixed together. On November 20, 1980, Texaco was drilling below the lake when it miscalculated and inadvertantly punched through one of the salt mine shafts. It wasn’t a very big hole, and it was initally plugged by the drill. But when the drill was reversed…well…when you fill your kitchen sink with water and then pull out the drain…you can pretty much figure out the rest.
Lake Peigneur began draining into the salt mine, sending more than 50 miners scrambling for the elevators and the safety of the surface. And just like your kitchen drain, a whirlpool formed on the lake as it drained, first sucking down the oil rig (from which the workers had all scrambled as well), then barges, then land and trees from around the lake.
And what’s more, the lake’s outlet, which flowed down to Vermillion Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, was reversed. This action served to pull salt water from the Gulf back into the lake, changing Peigneur’s composition from freshwater to saltwater.
Fortunately, there were no human fatalities (though I’m sure plenty of fish had a pretty rough go of it), but Texaco ended up paying a bundle of money in compensation.
Recommended Viewing: Watch Lake Peigneur disappear.