Commonwealth Journal

April 24, 2014

Lake Cumberland levels nearing ‘normal’

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — “Look at the level ... the lake is right where we need it to be at this time of year.”

Don B. Getty, manager of the now-completed Wolf Creek Dam Rehabilitation Project, sounds excited about Lake Cumberland, now less than 6 feet below the tree line and rising slowly. It’s still three weeks before the middle of May, the projected time for the lake to be at or near pool stage as the 2014 vacation season gets under way.

“And we need some rain,” Getty laughed. Heavy precipitation in the Cumberland River Basin during late March and early April raised the lake level faster than expected, but cloudless skies the past week or so have slowed the rise.

Lake Cumberland is in interim operation for a minimum of three years, including this year, to minimize impact to duskytail darters. The endangered species of minnows, before a solution, had threatened to keep the lake level 18 feet below normal this coming summer.

Interim operation has been mentioned before, but excitement of the lake rising and all the fuss about duskytail darters, the situation has been relegated to the base of newspapering’s pyramid paragraphs.

The “interim” in the operation apparently won’t be noticed by lake users. Getty said interim operation will keep the level within what he called a “SEPA (Southeastern Power Administration) Curve,” developed in concert with SEPA, Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect duskytail darters. Southeastern Power Administration markets hydroelectric power generated at the dam.

In normal operation, Lake Cumberland stays at or near the tree line between Memorial Day and July 4. After the Independence Day holiday, a slow drawdown begins toward Labor Day and into autumn, winter and early spring. The lower water level provides storage space for flood control during rainy seasons.

Looking back, it has been a lot of water under the dam, so to speak, since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in January 2007 that the level of the lake must be lowered 43 feet because of the shaky condition of Wolf Creek Dam. Lake Cumberland, when

The last pile was poured in March 2013 to complete a 4,000-foot-long, 275-foot-deep concrete barrier wall to stabilize the 63-year-old dam that had been declared in high risk of failure. The lake was allowed to rise about 20 feet last summer and businesses that depend on tourists for profit were confident Summer 2014 would be a normal vacation season.

Then came the duskytail darter. Seems the 2 1/2-inch-long minnow likes rocky riffles and moved down the Big South Fork River into headwaters of the lake while the waters were low.

Cries from tourism interests reached Washington D.C. and powerful people in high places demanded a quick solution. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to take a sampling of duskytail darters to Wolf Creek Dam National Fish Hatchery for safekeeping. Since then –– since March 25 –– Lake Cumberland has been on the rise.

Although the big deal is done, work continues at Wolf Creek Dam. A switchyard barrier wall to protect the electrical grid below the dam is now complete and the parking lot near powerhouse currently is being paved. A new access road to Kendall Recreation Area will be built as well as modification of the intersection with U.S. 127, the two-lane highway that crosses the mile-long dam.