Record water level, release rate set

Posted February 27, 2019 at 9:34 am

76Falls 02-25-18-Elv 756.43.psd

Wolf Creek Dam  Elv. 756.43-02-25-19.psd

Unprecedented February rainfall amounts across the region have resulted in extraordinary measures in regards to maintaining the levels of Lake Cumberland, Dale Hollow Lake and the Cumberland River below both of those reservoirs.

With heavy rains continuing to fall through last week and weekend, the levels of the Cumberland River, Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake continued to rise, putting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into scramble mode as they worked to control not only those two dams, but dams and locks all along the entire Cumberland River system.

The situation has produced several records, including all time high levels at Lake Cumberland and a near record level at Dale Hollow, as well as crushing the record for the amount of water that was allowed to be released at Wolf Creek Dam.

With a previous elevation record of 751.69 feet above sea level, Lake Cumberland’s level set an all time record, surpassing that mark at about 10:00 p.m. Saturday night, despite an already record amounts of water being released at the dam.

That level continued to climb Sunday and Monday, and at press time Tuesday morning, the Tennessee Valley Authority listed the highest level of Lake Cumberland at 756.52 feet above sea level occurring at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.

And while those levels and records were important and impressive, another record that was set and surpassed significantly was announced on Saturday afternoon during a press conference hosted by the Corps of Engineers at Kendall Campground, below Wolf Creek Dam.

During that press conference, attended by the Clinton County News. Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Commander, noted that prior to this event, the most water that had been released at the dam had been about 40,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

He told the Clinton County News, that at that rate, the amount of water coming through the spill gates and over the back side of the dam would fill approximately 23 backyard swimming pools every second.

On Saturday, in an effort to safely manage both the level of Lake Cumberland and the Cumberland River downstream, the Corps of Engineers had increased that flow rate to about 45,000 cfs, with plans the following day to begin releasing approximately 60,000 cfs.

According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the rate of release had neared that amount by noon Monday when a release of 58,660 cubic feet of water per second had been recorded at the dam.

On Monday, the circus-like atmosphere around Wolf Creek Dam and below near the Kendall Recreation area continued, with troves of people in the area looking at both the high level at Lake Cumberland up against the dam, as well as observing the heavy discharge flow from below the dam.

By Monday, for safety concerns because of the high water level and violent nature of the discharge of water into the river downstream, officials had closed off access to Kendall Recreation Area as well as access to the river itself.

The discharge below the dam was visible only from the area near the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery parking lot.

Jones also said that the Corps of Engineers would monitor the entire system of dams and locks along the Cumberland River in order to make decisions as to when other dams, such as Dale Hollow, would be made to release water.

Jones called the planned release of water a “controlled manner,” noting that it could be months before normal water levels at the two lakes and the downstream rivers were seen again.

“We’re going to have to release it over a significant amount of time to push that water out,” Jones said Saturday. “We’re going to do so in a controlled manner, based on the conditions, so that we can move it down and mitigate the effect that it will have on residents downstream.”

Jones also said that the team of dam safety experts were constantly monitoring Wolf Creek Dam along the entire structure, adding that the dam was showing no signs of any safety problems.

Specifically, he told the Clinton County News that as a result of these constant inspections, they were certain that the project of installing a concrete barrier wall several years ago had proved to be successful in stopping any leaking issues with the structure.

“Given our recent remediation work here, our dam safety team has no concerns as to the integrity of the dam,” Jones said.

Because of the heavy releases of water at Wolf Creek Dam, officials in Burkesville and Cumberland County, Kentucky issued a warning to residents living near the Cumberland River and in nearby low lying areas on Sunday, to consider leaving their homes and staying with family or friends in safer areas.

Although no mandatory evacuations were called for, it was noted that due to the high waters, several area roads and bridges would become impassable.

Dale Hollow Lake was also near setting records for the level of water being held at that dam located in Celina, Tennessee.

With a previous record level of just under 661 feet above sea level, Dale Hollow’s level was at 660.09 Monday afternoon.

Lee Roberts, with the Corps of Engineers, told the Clinton County News Monday that Dale Hollow Lake at that time was near its expected crest level of 660.2 feet above sea level.

Although no water was being released through the spill gates Monday morning at Dale Hollow, Roberts said that about 6,000 cubic feet per second of water was being released at that time with hydro-power generations, using three generating units.

However, later in the day, Corps of Engineers officials opted to begin allowing water to flow through the flood spill gates at Dale Hollow Dam as well.

At mid-day Monday, the TVA recorded that 10,150 cubic feet of water per second was being released through Dale Hollow Dam. That flow rate lasted for about two hours, and was cut to 5,725 cfs by early Tuesday morning.

Dale Hollow Dam controls the flow into the Obey River at Celina, Tennessee, which flows into the Cumberland River just a few miles downstream from the dam, flowing through Celina and on toward Nashville.

While the high water levels and heavy releases caused concern for many, for others it was an opportunity to take advantage of the high levels and get in some daredevil activities.

Social media showed several individuals who had entered the swift flowing current of Indian Creek just above 76 Falls, in tubes, kayaks and canoes, to take the fast ride over the falls while it was at a nominal height of just a few inches.

Normally, water flowing over 76 Falls can reach a height of up to 40 feet before the falling water reaches Lake Cumberland below.

By Monday afternoon, with 76 Falls being a “falls” of only a few inches, trips in canoes, kayaks and tubes continued to be made and traffic on the road above the park was constant with people hoping to get one of the few parking places at the roadside park in order to walk to the viewing overlooks.

Craig declares state of emergency in Clinton County

In relation to the flooding events of recent weeks, Clinton County Judge/Executive Ricky Craig issued a declaration of a local state of emergency late Monday afternoon.

In a press release delivered to the Clinton County News, Craig’s declaration noted that the flooding had specifically involved the Cumberland River and the inundation of a portion of the Wells Bottom and Rock House Trace areas of Clinton County.

Noting that the situation had created a hardship for many citizens of Clinton County, Craig’s declaration directed that the Clinton County Emergency Management Agency would provide assistance from local resources.

In addition, the declaration would allow waiver of normal procedures and formalities required by law regarding a) performance of public work, b) entering into contracts, c) incurring obligations, d) employment of permanent and temporary workers, e) utilization of volunteer workers, f) rental of equipment, g) appropriation and expenditure of public funds.