Water being released through dam being reduced

Wolf Creek Dam discharges water from the dam in Jamestown, Ky. March 13, 2019. Water managers are reducing discharges from 52,000 to 43,000 cubic feet per second by the afternoon. (USACE photo by Misty Cravens)

Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said water releases through Wolf Creek Dam would decrease beginning Wednesday afternoon from 52,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 43,000 cfs -- from more than 23 million gallons per minute to about 19 million gallons per minute -- an action that will relieve some flooding downstream on the Cumberland River.

Accordingly, water being released through the dam had reduced early Thursday morning to just over 19 million gallons a minute. At 7 a.m. Thursday the lake was at 740.66 feet above sea level, about 16 feet below its record level reached February 26. The water is still nearly 18 feet above the tree line, and about 47.2 percent of the flood control pool is being utilized.

"We will be cutting back slowly, spacing out cuts of approximately 2,000 cfs per hour," explained Anthony Rodino, Nashville District Water Management Section chief. After the rainfall moves through the area later this week, the current plan is to allow discharges to slowly fall in the days following as the water level in the reservoir continues to fall, he said.

After almost constant rain during most of February, runoff pushed Lake Cumberland to 756.52 feet above sea level, 33 feet above the tree line and almost 4 feet higher than it had ever been. High water inundated the shoreline and flooded areas along the Cumberland River downstream from the dam.

Initial observations as the water goes down indicate Pulaski County Park has escaped major damage. "We've been out there ... it looks as if there's not a lot of damage," said Kim Norfleet, manager of the county-operated park. Norfleet said the beach is still under water.

Pulaski County has got permission from the Corps to expand the popular beach on the other side of the courtesy dock. However, Judge-Executive Steve Kelley said last week high water will delay work on the beach. Despite the flooding, Kelley promised there will be a beach at the park during the upcoming vacation season. Water has receded from the causeway leading to General Burnside Island State Park and the park reopened a week ago.

Nashville District water managers continue to draw down the lake as Corps officials assess damage to recreational areas, including campsites and boat ramps.

Fall Creek Campground is opening April 12. Cumberland Point Campground is also opening April 12, some 35 days earlier than originally scheduled to offset the unavailability of campsites at other areas on the lake.

Impacts at Fishing Creek Campground remain tentative as the lake continues to recede. However, the Corps expects to delay the opening until mid-July. Below the dam at Kendall Campground, 11 campsites along the river are unavailable at this time due to erosion, but the campground will open on schedule.

Corps officials are assessing conditions at Waitsboro Campground and the preliminary assessment indicates a partial seasonal closure most likely into August. Officials will post updates on the condition and availability of recreational facilities to the lake's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lakecumberland.

Photographs from Russell and Cumberland counties show vacation homes inundated from a rising Cumberland River, flushed out of its banks by high water releases from Wolf Creek Dam.

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.