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Red River Watershed Management Institute

About the Red River Watershed Basin

The Red River Watershed Management Institute conducts research, education, and outreach in the Red River and its watershed.

What is a Watershed?
A watershed is an area of land where all water flows or drains to the same place.  This includes surface water and ground water. The Red River Watershed includes the Red River and all water that flows to it.

Where does the Red River begin?
The headwaters are the source of a stream/river. The Red River begins its total length of 1,360 miles in the Texas panhandle. The origins of the Red River are two forks (branches) in the Texas panhandle. The southern fork, Prairie Dog Town Fork, is formed in Randall County near Canyon, Texas. Prairie Dog Town Fork is formed from the confluence of Palo Duro Creek and Tierra Blanca Creek. The northern branch, North Fork, flows east entering Oklahoma. It then joins the southern branch at the Texas-Oklahoma border, northeast of Vernon, Texas. The Red River flows east, its south bank forming the border between Texas and Oklahoma and a portion of the border between Texas and Arkansas at the northeastern corner of Texas. The Red River flows into Arkansas and turns south at Fulton, Arkansas entering Louisiana near Ida. In Louisiana the Red River forms the boundary between Caddo and Bossier parishes and flows southeast, through Red River, Natchitoches, Rapides, and Avoyelles parishes to join a partial outflow from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya River.

Where does the Red River end?
The Red River ends in Louisiana where it empties into the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya. More specifically, the Red River ends as water from an outflow channel from the Mississippi River joins the Red River and flows into the Atchafalaya River near Simmesport, Louisiana. Water flowing from the Mississippi River into this outflow is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Old River Control Structure. The water from the Atchafalaya River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Sediment deposited forms the Atchafalaya Delta.

What are Floodplains?
A floodplain is the land near a stream that is inundated during floods. A floodplain is made by stream erosion and deposition. Floodplains occur when the water flowing in a stream/river is too great to be contained in its banks. The flood water exceeds the carrying capacity of the river and the water flows over the banks into the floodplain, the low lying area adjacent to the stream/river.

What are Oxbow Lakes?
An oxbow lake is a crescent shaped lake that is formed when a meander of a river is cutoff to form a lake. An oxbow lake is created over time by erosion and deposition of soil as a river changes course. As the river meanders the water flows at different speeds across its width. The water traveling against the inside loop of a bend in the river travels slow, causing deposition of sediments. The water in outside edge of the loop travels faster causing erosion of the river sediment. Over time the loop of the meander will be cut off from the main path of the river as the river takes the easiest route and continues in a straight path and silt fills in the old extensions of the meander forming the U-shaped oxbow lake. Sometimes more than one meander is involved and the shape of the oxbow lake is more serpentine or even "E" shaped, like the oxbow lake at the Red River Education and Research Park (Old River Lake).