A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Water levels near record high at Lake Cumberland due to heavy rains; Wolf Creek Dam released water

The water level at Lake Cumberland is at a near record high due to recent heavy rains, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the largest ever quantity of water from the lake at Wolf Creek Dam, which could exacerbate flooding of low-lying areas along the Cumberland River below the dam.

Up until now, water managers at the Corps’ District headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., said the largest amount of water ever released from the dam is 40,000 cubic feet per second in January 1974. However, releases at Wolf Creek Dam rose to 45,000 cfs Saturday afternoon, and were expected to increase to 60,000 cfs by noon on Sunday.

Wolf Creek Dam (Photo by Mistry Cravens of USACE)

Saturday afternoon the level of Lake Cumberland stood at 749.74 feet, the highest observation since the record of 751.69 set in May 1984. That means more than 70 percent of the flood control pool in the lake is currently being utilized.

“Our water managers constantly monitor how the precipitation affects lake levels and are proactive as possible to ensure we are making controlled releases to mitigate future possibilities of even larger releases,” explained Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, the ACE Nashville District commander.

Jones said 60,000 cfs means that water will completely fill the river channel downstream of the dam.  Coupled with rain runoff it will impact low-lying areas and cause some backwater with other small streams that run into the river, he said.

The Corps of Engineers worked with state officials to communicate with landowners downstream and to get the word out about these increases for public safety. The Nashville District is communicating with the Louisville District Emergency Management Operations Center and they are in turn communicating with Kentucky Emergency Management in Frankfort.

Southeast Kentucky is forecast received another two to three inches of rain on Sunday, with the higher amounts expected near the Tennessee line, according to the National Weather Service

Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, said, “With the expectation of additional heavy rainfall, we are constantly monitoring developments in the State Emergency Operations Center. Communities and citizens are asked to be on high alert for continuing flooding conditions. Emergency preparedness is key – have a plan and act on that plan.”

Anthony Rodino, Nashville District Water Management Section chief, continues to reinforce the message that the Nashville District has to increase releases to regain storage in the reservoir.

The flood control pool at Lake Cumberland spans elevations 723 to 760, which allocates 2,094,000 acre-feet of storage in the pool and allows for storage of 6.78 inches of rainfall runoff from the 5,789 square-mile watershed. 

In calendar year 2019, Corps’ rain gauges have recorded a basin average rainfall total of 16.2 inches in the Wolf Creek watershed.

Residents can contact emergency managers for Russell County at 270-343-2112, Ext. 1402; Clinton County at 606-387-8636; Cumberland County at 270-864-2511, Ext. 339; Wayne County at 606-348-3302; and Monroe County at 270-487-5505 for more information about the releases at Wolf Creek Dam. 

Dossett adds: “We are asking that everyone remain vigilant during these flooding conditions and continue to monitor the developing high-water issues.”

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