“We appreciate the Secretary of the Interior making an expedited, 45-day decision for their Biological Opinion which prompted the Corps to sign the order (Monday) allowing water levels to be restored to 723 feet –– levels adequate to support robust tourism in 2014,” said the congressional group.
With formal consultation complete, Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham, commanding general, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, made the decision yesterday to allow Lake Cumberland to rise to a target elevation of 723 feet this summer, which is the normal elevation at the beginning of the recreational season. The Corps and staff from the Wildlife Service’s Kentucky Field Office implemented an expedited review and analysis process to complete the Biological Opinion in less than 45 days. The normal consultation process allows up to 135 days.
“As a result of the Biological Opinion and Brig. Gen. Burcham’s decision to increase the pool elevation, we will begin immediately to capture water in Lake Cumberland,” said Lt. Col. John Hudson, commander of the Corps’ Nashville District. “Reaching our target peak elevation of 723 feet this year will be dependent on the amount and timing of rainfall.” The lake at noon yesterday was 706.35 feet above sea level, a little more than a foot above the target level last summer.
Repairs to Wolf Creek Dam were basically completed in March 2013 and the lake was allowed to rise about 25 feet last summer. It had been kept about 40 feet below normal since January 2007 to facilitate repairs at Wolf Creek Dam, declared in high risk of failure in 2005.
Completion of the Biological Opinion was the final piece of information required to make a decision about the Lake Cumberland pool level. The dam safety remedial measures had previously been reviewed by Corps dam safety professionals, who recommended returning the lake to normal operations for 2014.
The Corps discovered the duskytail darter, listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, during a required biological survey associated with the dam safety project at Wolf Creek Dam. Duskytail darters were found at seven new locations in the headwaters portion of the Big South Fork embayment in Lake Cumberland in stream habitat that was exposed during the drawdown.