GRDA Waters: The W.R. Holway Reservoir

Power for Progress…
A weekly column from the Grand River Dam Authority

An aerial view of GRDA’s W.R. Holway Reservoir, attached to the Salina Pumped Storage Project, in the hills southeast of Salina.

Located in the hills southeast of Salina, Oklahoma, the Grand River Dam Authority’s W.R. Holway Reservoir is a bit off the beaten path. Resting high above the Grand River valley, in a place where the Grand never cut a path, the reservoir does not garner the attention that it’s “sister lakes” – Grand and Hudson – get from water enthusiasts. In fact, many consider Holway Reservoir one of the best kept secrets in the state.  

However, while its 712 surface acres of water and 21 miles of shoreline may pale in comparison to GRDA’s other lakes, the role that Holway has played in GRDA’s overall operations has been just as important.

Named to honor longtime GRDA Consulting Engineer W.R. Holway, the reservoir has also been known as Chimney Rock, or Pumpback Lake since its completion in 1968. That was the year GRDA also completed the first phase of Salina Pumped Storage Project (SPSP), the hydroelectric facility that utilizes Holway’s waters to produce low-cost, reliable GRDA electricity.

Holway was created when GRDA completed a 200-foot earth and rock dam in Chimney Rock Hollow. Using specialized hydroelectric pump-turbines in the SPSP powerhouse, GRDA can fill the reservoir with water from the Saline Creek arm of Lake Hudson. The water is pumped from the creek, through the powerhouse 250 feet up the side of a bluff and into the reservoir above. In time when the water is needed for generation, it is released from the reservoir and flows back downhill, through the pumps, now serving as generators. Essentially, Holway’s waters serve as battery for GRDA electric generation.

Opened to the public and always a favorite of anglers, Holway is a favorite destination year-round. Although GRDA rules prohibit the use of internal combustion engines, visitors can be found using canoes, paddles and electric trolling motors to navigate the deep and quiet waters of Holway. Those waters, covering a bed of rocks carved from the Ozark foothills, have a reputation for being clear and pristine. At one time, the reservoir held the distinction of producing the state’s record smallmouth bass; a fish weighing in at 8-plus pounds.

As is the case with all its hydroelectric facilities, GRDA reminds visitors to Holway Reservoir to be aware of the notifications around the facility. Signs, buoys, sirens, fencing and flashing lights are all intended to notify those in the area when floodgates are open, generators are operating or water is rising swiftly. Educating yourself on this signage and the reservoir area can help insure a fun, safe visit to one of Oklahoma’s best kept secrets.

Headquartered in Vinita, GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. Directly or indirectly, GRDA’s low-cost, reliable; electricity serves nearly 500,000 homes in Oklahoma and stretches into 75 of 77 counties in the state. At no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers, GRDA also manages 70,000 surface acres of lakes in the state, including Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and the W.R. Holway Reservoir. Today, GRDA’s 500 employees continue to produce the same “power for progress” that has benefited the state for 75 years.
             – Justin Alberty
             GRDA Corporate Communications Director

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This article is part of the GRDA Power For Progress series.