Premiere Recreational Lake - Quality of Shoreline

What makes the Lake of the Ozarks a premiere recreational lake?  There are many reasons, but not the least of which is the quality of the shoreline.  Quality of shoreline, from a boating point of view, describes a depth to shoreline distance that is consistent and navigable, free of natural hazards such as shoals and submerged debris.  At nearly any point along the shoreline of the Lake it is reasonable to assume a safe boating depth within 100 feet of the shoreline.  Long time visitors, property owners, and lake businesses take for granted the hazard free shoreline and predictable depth. But why is the Lake this way?  Other man-made lakes, of comparative size, rarely offer the same quality of shoreline that The Lake of the Ozarks exhibits uniformly.

There are three main reasons for the excellent quality of shoreline on The Lake of the Ozarks.  The first is location. Unlike many natural lakes, which are essentially flooded depressions, The Lake of the Ozarks was created by flooding a large section of the Osage River valley, and basically still runs along the same contours it followed for thousands of years.
Osage River 1886
The above map is not of The Lake of the Ozarks, despite its familiar looking shape. The map is a detailed topographical map of the Osage River basin from 1886, forty-four years before the dam was built.  The location of Bagnell Dam was chosen wisely, at a natural choke point of the river basin created by bedrock, ideal to anchor the dam foundation.  By creating the lake in this way, little was changed to the watershed of the area above the 660 foot level, avoiding early erosion and filling.

The second reason for the quality of shoreline is the U.S. Corps of Engineers.  From the beginning of the Lake's inception private development was intended to be allowed down to the waterline of property, atypical of most Corps controlled lakes where setbacks are often several hundred feet.  By allowing property ownership to include lake shoreline, private development has been in large part responsible for erosion control, managing watershed, and reducing sedimentation.  Dredging of The Lake is rarely allowed, or needed.

The third and most important reason for the quality of shoreline on The Lake of the Ozarks was a change in the operation of the Osage River Project itself around the time Bagnell Dam was finished. Originally, The Lake of the Ozarks was intended to have a much wider range of operating depth, some 30 feet in total, compared to today's 15 foot maximum. From time to time this fact resurfaces and is often the source of rumors that the lake will be "drastically" lowered over the winter. In the original operational design, with the possibility of 30 foot lake level changes, the entire shoreline of the lake was clear cut and sometimes bulldozed to remove all natural obstructions within the 30 foot shoreline zone. In total, some 26,000 acres were clear cut to form the shoreline. The dam itself is even designed to generate power within this larger operating range as turbine inlets are more than 20 feet below the flood gates.  Currently, Ameren UE is contracted to keep the lake within a relatively narrow operating depth, between 651 and 660 feet above sea level, with the ability to go as low as 645 feet only in emergencies.

With shoreline contours groomed for much lower depths, and operating depths only half of what was originally intended, along with extensive private and public management of shoreline, The Lake of the Ozarks will enjoy a hazard free shoreline, unmatched by any large body of water anywhere, for a long time to come.

For boating this means the only real hazard to navigation on The Lake of the Ozarks is typically other boats.