Commonwealth Journal

April 8, 2014

Debris from rising lake has made Waitsboro unstable

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — A rapidly rising Lake Cumberland has pushed massive amounts of debris along the shoreline at Waitsboro Recreation Area, making the popular boat ramp temporarily unusable.

A huge log, surrounded by floating bottles, sticks, cans, used diapers, unidentifiable objects; even a basketball (probably discarded by a Wildcat fan after the national championship game) blocked the end of the ramp at noon Tuesday. The entire Waitsboro shoreline, as far as eye could see, was clogged with debris as the murky water funneled trash into the eddy-like surface of the lake.

“It will be taken care of, probably today,” Tom Hale, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ operations manager for the eastern Kentucky area, said Tuesday afternoon. “PRIDE of the Cumberland,” a debris-collecting vessel based at Waitsboro and operated by the Corps’ Nashville District, was standing by to clean the area.

“We have a problem with debris at several of our ramps, but Waitsboro is the worse,” Hale noted.

Generous rainfall in the Cumberland River Basin is raising the level of Lake Cumberland probably faster than the Corps anticipated. At 7 a.m. Tuesday, the level was at 715.72, only 7.28 feet below the tree line. The water had risen 1.31 feet during the previous 24 hours.

The Corps announced March 25 that a way had been found to protect duskytail darters, an endangered species of minnows found in the Big South Fork River, and the lake would be allowed to rise to normal levels this summer. Rehabilitation of Wolf Creek Dam kept the lake at the 680 foot level, about 43 feet below normal for six years, and at 705 feet last summer.

Repairs to the dam were completed a year ago this past March but presence of the federally endangered minnows in upper reaches of the lake threatened to delay normal operation of the lake this coming summer.

The very character of the 2 1/2-inch-long minnow was maligned by tourism interests and their cries of “foul” reached the Halls of Congress. Pressured from powerful politicians, including Somerset’s Hal Rogers and Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, hastened a solution to the minnow dilemma and the lake is on the rise.

The Corps predicted that with sufficient rainfall, the lake would reach pool stage –– 723 feet above sea level –– by May 15. At the rate the lake is rising, the water will reach the tree line before the middle of May.