Commonwealth Journal

August 25, 2013

Widespread rumors about dam leak unfounded

Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — Construction activity at and near Wolf Creek Dam traditionally has been a source of rumors, and despite the fact the $594 million Wolf Creek Dam Rehabilitation Project is nearing completion the rumor mill has not stopped grinding.

Latest rumor: Wolf Creek Dam has sprung a new leak and the TVA will build a new dam below the existing structure.

Don B. Getty, manager of the dam rehabilitation project, was out of his office and on the road when a reporter reached him on his cellular phone and related the rumor. Getty laughed and laughed until the reporter feared he might have an accident.

“There is absolutely no credibility to that rumor,” Getty assured. “We have no knowledge of any leak in Wolf Creek Dam.

“All dams leak a little and dams are constructed to control significant leaks,” Getty said. “Seepage at Wolf Creek dam is minimal and there are no problems.”

Apparently the source of the rumor is continuing construction below the dam. Work is under way on an extension of a cutoff wall designed to prevent erosion from undermining the electrical switchyard near the base of the structure.

Getty says the new section of cutoff wall will be 180 feet long and constructed by drilling 50-inch overlapping holes, same as the 4,000-foot-long permanent concrete barrier wall was inserted in the dam during the past six years.

The cutoff wall near the switchyard won't be as deep as the 275-foot-deep wall in the dam.

The project is an extension of the cutoff wall installed during the 1970s after serious leaks developed in the structure a decade earlier.

Treviicos-Soletanche JV, general contractor for the rehabilitation of Wolf Creek Dam, is extending the cutoff wall. The same type of equipment as used on the work platform during the rehabilitation project apparently added grist to the rumor mill that a new dam was under construction.

Fact is, a roller-compacted concrete dam, constructed with layers of concrete, each compacted with heavy equipment, was discussed as an alternative to the protective concrete barrier wall inserted into the earthen section of the dam.

Engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said a new dam was not built because environmental regulations associated with a new dam would have required a delay too risky for Wolf Creek Dam, classified in high risk of failure. Also, a new dam would have required draining the lake, an option that would not have been economically feasible or acceptable in the 10-county Lake Cumberland Region.

Something had to be done quickly, and the barrier wall was the answer.

Getty emphasizes that extension of the cutoff wall near the switchyard has absolutely nothing to do with the dam. The cutoff wall will prevent undermining of the switchyard by high and low flows of water in the tailrace below the dam.

The rumor included an unlikely scenario that TVA would build a new dam. Tennessee Valley Authority is involved in normal operation of the dam, but the Corps of Engineers is the dam building agency. Hydroelectric power generated by the six generators at Wolf Creek Dam is marketed by the Southeastern Power Administration.