The Ouachita River (wash-eh-taw) is a 605-mile-long river that runs south and east through the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana, joining the Red River just before the Red joins the Mississippi River.
The Ouachita River begins in the Ouachita Mountains
near Mena, Arkansas
. It flows east into Lake Ouachita
, a reservoir created by Blakely Mountain Dam. The North Fork and South Fork of the Ouachita flow into Lake Ouachita to join the main stream. Portions of the river in this region flow through the Ouachita National Forest
. From the lake, the Ouachita flows south into Lake Hamilton
, a reservoir created by Carpenter Dam. The city of Hot Springs, Arkansas
, lies on the north side of Lake Hamilton. Another reservoir, Lake Catherine
, impounds the Ouachita just below Lake Hamilton. Below Lake Catherine, the river flows free through most of the rest of Arkansas.
Just below Lake Catherine, the river bends south near Malvern, Arkansas, and collects the Caddo River tributary near Arkadelphia. Downstream, the Little Missouri River joins the Ouachita. After passing the city of Camden, shortly downstream from where dredging for navigational purposes begins, the river collects the waters of Smackover Creek and later the Ouachita's main tributary, the Saline River. South of the Saline, the Ouachita flows into Lake Jack Lee, a reservoir created by the Ouachita and Black River Project, just north of the Louisiana state line. The Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge encompasses the Ouachita from the Saline River to Lake Jack Lee's mouth.
Below Lake Jack Lee, the Ouachita continues south and into Louisiana. The river flows generally south through the state, collecting the tributary waters of Bayou Bartholomew, Bayou de Loutre, Bayou D'Arbonne, the Boeuf River, the Little River, and the Tensas River. Beyond the Tensas, the Ouachita is called the Black River for several miles until it joins the Red River, which flows into both the Atchafalaya River and the Mississippi River, via the Old River Control Structure.
The river has six locks and dams along its length.
The river is named for the Washita
Indian tribe, which was one of several that lived along the river. Others included the Caddo
, Osage Nation
, and Choctaw
. "Washita" is an Indian word meaning "good hunting grounds" and "sparkling silver water." A mound-building
civilization existed along the river at one time, as evidenced by the mounds found along its length. The largest such mound was destroyed during construction of a bridge at Jonesville, Louisiana
, in the 20th century. This mound was reported in use as late as 1540 by the explorer Hernando de Soto
. A lightning strike destroyed the temple atop the mound that year, which was seen as a bad omen by the tribe. The temple was never rebuilt and the tribe moved away around 1730.
The river served as a route into northern Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas for European colonists and has served as an important transportation and trade route since the 18th century.
The river continues to be utilized for commercial navigation on a smaller scale than its prior "steamboat" days. It is fed by numerous small creeks containing endemic native fish such as killifish
. Fishing remains popular in the river for bass, bream, drum, and gar
, although concerns about airborne mercury contamination
in some areas deter those who wish to eat the fish. The river is commercially navigable from Camden, Arkansas
, to its terminal point in Jonesville, Louisiana. Upstream of Camden, the river receives substantial recreational use. The Ouachita is lined for most of its length with deep woods, including substantial wetlands, giving the river a scenic quality representative of the southwestern Arkansas and northern Louisiana region.
The Ouachita River has been threatened by the proposed El Dorado Pipeline project. Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality approved an application that would place a 36-inch pipeline in the bed of the river in Union County Arkansas that is proposed to dump 20 million gallons of effluent discharge from three privately owned chemical plants as well as the city of El Dorado wastewater into the river per day.
Louisiana Attorney General Foti has interceded in the process, and if needed states he will file a lawsuit to prevent this project from progressing further.
freelance photojournalist has penned several articles concerning the project citing an Environmental Engineer's independent assessment of the proposed project. 22 miles of the Ouachita is designated Louisiana Scenic Waterway, from the state line to the north bank of Bayou Bartholomew that has no industry on it. The first sampling station on the Ouachita River after the Louisiana / Arkansas state line is at Sterlington.
Major towns along the river are:
- Mena, Arkansas
- Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Malvern, Arkansas
- Arkadelphia, Arkansas
- Camden, Arkansas
- Crossett, Arkansas
- Sterlington, Louisiana
- Monroe, Louisiana
- West Monroe, Louisiana
- Columbia, Louisiana
- Harrisonburg, Louisiana
- Jonesville, Louisiana