Water levels to rise in Lake Cumberland soon
March 31, 2014 Share

Water levels to rise in Lake Cumberland soon

Lake Cumberland's water level will be restored to 723 feet by mid-May, according to officials in Washington D.C. The much welcomed announcement came Tuesday afternoon after Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell personally informed Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Congressmen Hal Rogers (KY-05) and Ed Whitfield (KY-01) of the news.

In a joint statement on Tuesday the members said, “Recently we met with Administration officials to request that the water levels of Lake Cumberland be restored to pre-2007 water levels in a timely manner, and we appreciate the Secretary of the Interior making an expedited, 45-day decision for their Biological Opinion, which prompted the Corps to sign the order today allowing water levels to be restored to 723 feet – levels adequate to support robust tourism in 2014.

This announcement is great news for the thousands of people who rely on the lake for recreation and tourism, and to the local communities, businesses, and individ- uals whose livelihoods are being impacted because of the lower water levels.”

Back on On February 11, at the request of Senate Republican Leader McConnell and Senator Paul, Daniel M. Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, met with Senators McConnell, Paul and Alexander and Congressmen Rogers and Whitfield to discuss the water levels at Lake Cumberland.

During the meeting in Senator McConnell’s leadership office, the members urged the agency to complete its study on the Duskytail Darter, a 2.5 inch fish on the endangered species list, in a timely manner that would allow for restoring the pre-2007 water levels on which the local community relies.

In addition to that meeting, Senators McConnell and Paul and Congressmen Rogers and Whitfield contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the issue. Working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the past few months, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized their Biological Opinion on Monday that clears the way for the Corps to resume normal operations at Lake Cumberland immediately.

With formal consultation complete, Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham, commanding general, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, made the decision to allow Lake Cumberland to rise to a target elevation of 723 feet this summer, which is the normal elevation at the beginning of the recreation season.

The Corps and staff from the Service’s Kentucky Field Office implemented an expedited review and analysis pro- cess to complete the Biological Opinion in less than 45 days. The normal consultation process allows up to 135 days.

The Biological Opinion is posted online at http:// www.fws.gov/southeast/. “As a result of the Biological Opinion and Brig. Gen. Burcham’s decision to increase the pool elevation, we will begin immediately to capture water in Lake Cumberland,” said Lt. Col. John Hudson, commander, Nashville District. “Reaching our target peak elevation of 723 feet this year will be dependent on the amount and timing of rainfall.”

The completion of the Biological Opinion was the final piece of information required to make a decision about the Lake Cumberland pool level. The dam safety remedial measures had previously been reviewed by Corps dam safety professionals, who recom- mended returning the lake to normal operations for 2014.

The Corps discovered the duskytail darter, listed as endan- gered under the Endangered Species Act, during a required biological survey associated with the dam safety project at Wolf Creek Dam. Duskytail darters were found at seven new locations in the headwaters portion of the Big South Fork embayment in Lake Cumberland in stream habitat that was exposed during the drawdown.

“Collectively, these measures will help minimize impacts to the species and ensure the duskytail darter’s future survival in the Big South Fork,” said Lee Andrews, Field Office supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Kentucky.

“We understand the recreational and economic importance of Lake Cumberland in southeast Kentucky and have worked closely with the Corps to expe- dite this review. This is another good example of how our implementation of the Endangered Species Act can balance economic and other human needs with the needs of our rarest species.”

The Corps and the Service agreed to move forward with three primary conservation mea- sures that were essential to the Service’s analysis of the project’s effects on the duskytail darter.

The three conservation measures are: Capture and Hold – capturing duskytail darters and establishing a temporary, captive population of the species for future recovery efforts of the darter; Water Quality/Habitat Improvement – the Corps will remediate two acid mine drain- ages on tributaries of the Big South Fork and also complete one sediment abatement/soil sta- bilization project; and Interim Dam Adjustment – the Corps will modify operations at the Wolf Creek Dam to follow the Top Southeastern Power Administrative (SEPA) Curve during the Winter and Spring filling cycle with an overall goal of reaching elevation 723 around the middle of May.

This interim operation will last for a minimum of three years, or longer, if the water quality improvements have not been completed. The darters will be maintained and propagated at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Russell County as part of the recovery effort and will, over time, be used in reintroduction or population augmentation efforts. Any reintroduction effort will require additional coordination with participating agencies.

In Frankfort, Rep. Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, the House Republican Floor Leader, said the announcement was great news for Lake Cumberland. "This announcement is obviously great news for our tourism industry, not only for Lake Cumberland but the tourism economy for the Commonwealth as a whole," Hoover said.

"I cannot thank enough our senior Senator Mitch McConnell for his constant work and effort in this cause. As you may recall I rose on the floor of the Kentucky House of Representatives when the Army Corps of Engineers first announced their decision to not raise water levels because of the duskytail darter.

I urged the corps to reverse their decision because of the negative impact this would have on Lake Cumberland area businesses that depend on tourism dollars generated during the summer months." Hoover said through Sen. McConnell’s work and persistence to reverse what he believes was a "silly decision," jobs will now be saved in the Lake Cumberland area. "Businesses will be protected, and tourism will once again thrive," he said.