Commonwealth Journal

February 27, 2013

Budget woes threaten lake revival

Federal cuts could impact Lake Cumberland management

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Wolf Creek Dam —  

Economic optimism about a promised rise in Lake Cumberland this summer is being clouded by a wrangling U.S. Congress and ominous threat of sequester –– automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to begin Friday.
“We just don’t know at this point how it will affect us,” said Tom Hale, operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Eastern Kentucky Area. Hale’s area of responsibilty includes Lake Cumberland as well as Martins Fork in Harlan County and Laurel Lake near London.
“We (Corps) are part of the Defense Department,” Hale noted. “We are waiting to see how we are to respond to the budget cuts, and we will respond accordingly.”
Some $46 billion will be cut from the Defense Department’s budget if sequester takes effect. The national media reports the Defense Department has officially notified its 800,000 civilian employees that they are likely to be placed on periods of unpaid leave.
According to Hale, the 53 employees of the Corps’ Eastern Kentucky Area at this point don’t know how they will be affected. As aforesaid, their responsibilities are operation of Lake Cumberland, Laurel Lake and Martin’s Fork Lake as well as Wolf Creek Dam aside from the rehabilitation project.
Lake Cumberland, with a promised 20-foot rise in the water level, is welcoming the “Ohio Navy” back this summer after a six-year period of lower water levels that caused many water lovers to seek other vacation places.
Part of the Corps responsibility is keeping the lakes clean and safe for vacationers. Operations of lakes in Eastern Kentucky are complicated by undisciplined trash-dumping practices. 
High water, or tides, in streams carry trash into lakes and overburden the Corps’ limited staff. Pulaski County government, among others, has been assisting the Corps in tidying up Lake Cumberland ahead of the coming vacation season and the lake’s heralded return toward normalcy. 
The Corps operates several recreation areas including Waitsboro, Fishing Creek, Cumberland Point and Kendall immediately below Wolf Creek Dam.
Since January 2007, Lake Cumberland has been held as closely as possible to 680 feet above sea level, about 40 feet lower than normal operation.
Repairs to the dam are nearing completion and the Corps announced January 25 that the lake would probably be allowed to rise to between 700 and 705 feet above sea level by June. In 2014, after the total rehabilitation is completed this coming December, the lake will return to its historical pool stage at the tree line.