The Taming of La Riviera Blanche

The history of the White River and construction of Table Rock Dam

Little Rock District - USACE
Published May 10, 2022
a construction site showing concrete monoliths being constructed across a slow moving river

With more than 1,230,000 cubic yards of concrete, the Table Rock Dam is one of the many dams constructed to impound the White River. More than 5 Empire State Buildings in length, the dam was completed in August of 1957 and remains a popular feature in the area around Branson, Mo.

The Table Rock Project near Branson, Missouri is the site of Table Rock Dam, one of eight dams that impound the upper White River in Arkansas and Missouri. The White is a 722-mile river that begins life as a small spring in the Boston Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. While smaller than the Arkansas River, the White carries almost as much water with flows that can reach 20,000 to 100,000 cubic feet per second. While levees were initially used to control flooding in the White River Valley, the floods of 1927, 1943, and 1949 were so devastating that Congress passed the Flood Control Act. This was the start of the impounding of the White River with flood control reservoirs and dams. This video is a historical look at the White River and the changes that came as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked to help mitigate flood risk throughout the White River Basin.

While originally intended for flood control, the reservoirs like Table Rock Lake, Beaver Lake, and Bull Shoals provide incredible opportunities for recreation. They also provide hydropower and drinking water for many communities, including the Northwest Arkansas Metro - one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. This growth along with a growing tourism industry continues to place new demands on the river.

As USACE works to manage these locations and ensure they are able to continue their missions of flood control, hydropower, and recreation, they depend on the citizens of the area to work with them as part of a giant compromise. This compromise is one that must balance the waters of the White, the lake levels, and the river levels as they change from season to season. In an area that sees so many parallel and often competing interests around the waters of the White and their management it's unlikely that water control decisions will ever make everyone happy.  But water is a finite resource and many risk drivers continue to threaten it. Increased urbanization changes how runoff responds after big rains, greater populations demand more from the conservation pools of the lake, and homeowners and recreators both want predictable lake levels. This balance is never going to be perfect and will change over time. USACE is working to ensure everyone that enjoys the White River and its reservoirs are able to find common ground. 

graphic showing risk drivers to water management

For more information on how USACE is working with stakeholders to protect these vital water resources, please see the Southwestern Division's Civil Works Strategic Plan. SWL is working towards a safe, sustainable, resilient water future for the communities we serve, and the value they provide to the Nation, meeting the increasing challenges and demands on the region's water resources through an integrated approach to their management.