Spring rains raise Lake Cumberland’s level
May 19, 2016 Share

Spring rains raise Lake Cumberland’s level

There was some concern during a dry period the first of April that lack of precipitation would keep Lake Cumberland from reaching pool stage as scheduled on May 15.

Not to worry. Five to 7 inches of rain the last of April and first of May sent the lake above the tree line.

The sudden flush of water in the Cumberland River Basin got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scurrying to bring the water level back down to pool stage in line with an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the duskytail darter.

The agreement was reached because of discovery that federally endangered duskytail darters had moved habitats into parts of the Big South River in McCreary County while the lake was kept low for seven years to facilitate repairs at Wolf Creek Dam. Dillingham said if the lake gets higher that 723 feet above sea level, it pushes water back into the Big South Fork and inundates habitats of duskytail darters. The minnows live in running water and can’t survive in still waters of a lake.

Discovery of the minnows on the endangered species list almost kept the lake lower than normal during the summer of 2014. Tourism interests were appalled that the dam had been fixed and something in their minds as insignificant as a minnow would hurt business by keeping the lake low yet another summer. The fuss reached the Halls of Congress and pressure was put on the Corps to find a solution. Thus the agreement between the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that provided for an improvement in duskytail habitat and sent a sampling of darters to Conservation Fisheries in Knoxville where hopefully propagation will take place.

The Corps apparently is doing all it can to keep the lake at 723 or below.

“We ran all six generator (in Wolf Creek Dam) 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Robert Dillingham, hydraulic engineer at the Corps’ Nashville District headquarters. The lake level was still at 724.28 feet above sea level Tuesday and at times only 20 cubic feet of water per second were being released through the dam.

“Top of the power pool is 723 feet and we’re trying to get back to that,” Dillingham said.

Lake Cumberland normally operates on what is called a SEPA curve, acronym for Southeastern Power Administration, marketer of hydroelectric power produced at Wolf Creek Dam.

Dillingham pointed out the SEPA curve calls for the lake to be at 700 feet above sea level on February 1 and rise to 723 feet above sea level by May 15. It then slowly falls throughout the summer.

Commonwealth Journal