Lake Cumberland has set a new record high level and finally but slowly has begun to fall. From about noon Tuesday until early Thursday morning the water had gone down nearly a foot (.94). Water was being released through Wolf Creek Dam at the rate of 59,510 cubic feet per second.
Think about it. A cubic foot of water is 7.48 gallons. Every second, 445,135 gallons of water are being released through the dam into the Cumberland River downstream. Every minute, 26,708,100 gallons pour through the dam. It is a record rate of release and some areas below the dam are flooded.
After weeks of almost constant rain in the Cumberland River Basin, 101-mile-long Lake Cumberland is filled to the brim; higher than ever since the gates were closed in late December 1950 and the longest and deepest lake this side of the Mississippi River was impounded.
The sun reappeared this week but runoff from heavy rain had pushed the lake to 756.51 feet above sea level. The crest had been reached and the lake slowly started falling.
And so, the new record level for lake Cumberland is 756.51, about 4 feet higher than it has ever been. More than 80 percent of the flood control pool is full. The lake's hundreds of coves and more than 1,200 miles of shoreline are turned into a muddy sea.
Previous high level was 751.69 in May 1984. Since then, $594 million has been spent during a seven-year repair program to seal a leaky Wolf Creek Dam. This was a new test for a lake never this high since the dam has been fixed.
This winter has been wet. The sun disappeared for good in February and it rained, rained and rained. The lake rose and continued to rise. It passed the 1984 record last Saturday and kept rising, lapping 33 feet into the timber.
Residents along the Cumberland River worried. They saw the downstream Cumberland River rise and flood their neighborhoods as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried to control the rising lake. An unidentified radio announcer proclaimed Wolf Creek Dam was about to break and advised residents below the dam to get ready to evacuate. The pronouncement was immediately declared totally false by the Corps. Social Media circulated a video showing water gushing through what appeared to be a hole in the dam. The Corps said it was a pressure relief valve.
The lake kept rising. The rains kept falling. Recreational areas are inundated and closed. Waitsboro, one of Pulaski County's most popular boat-launching and camping spots, probably won't open this season because of damage caused by high water. Fishing Creek Recreation Area will have a delayed opening.
Under normal conditions, Lake Cumberland would operate on what is called a SEPA Curve, acronym for Southeastern Power Administration, the agency that buys hydropower produced by the six generators at Wolf Creek Dam. The SEPA Curve raises the lake, beginning in February, from a wintertime level of about 700 feet to summertime pool at the tree line by May 15. Corps officials say it may be months before the lake returns to normal levels.
More rain is due late this week before the weather turns cold with a promise of some snow. Forecasters say an inch or less of rain will fall, not enough to cause another significant rise in rivers and lakes.