Dam Deemed "High Risk"

The dam that holds back one of Kentucky’s largest lakes is leaking and now the federal government said the leak is worse than they first thought.

To relieve pressure on the Wolf Creek Dam in Russell County, the level of Lake Cumberland will be drastically lower than usual. The lake will be lowered to 680 feet. Normal pool level in the winter is 690 feet and 723 feet in the summer and some of the boat docks will likely be on dry land after the lake is lowered.

“Putting this all into a little bit of perspective, if I stood here last summer, chances are I would have been under water but now in efforts to reduce the risk of Wolf Creek Dam failing, the U.S. government is going to lower the lake by 10 more feet,” said Ed Slusser with Alligator One Marina.

Already parts of Lake Cumberland are drying up. Only a trickle of water remains in this cove that used to be full of lake water. Since 2005, Lake Cumberland’s winter time levels have been lower to take pressure of the earthen part of Wolf Creek Dam but now government officials say that’s not enough to prevent the dam from failing.

Governor Fletcher is meeting with emergency officials, the National Guard and others, to assess the situation.

“It will be ten to 15 days to lower the lake. Doing that today,” Governor Fletcher said.

The lower the lake means the dried up coves and banks will look much the same this summer. Some docks will be on dry land. People like Slusser said he won’t be able to pump gas and other services will be reduced.

“Course the channel getting out, little narrower won’t be water everywhere like you want it to,” Slusser said.

Marinas such as this one will have to make revisions and that will be costly. United States government officials say they will help the dock owners make their boat ramps more accessible to the lake.

The lowest level Lake Cumberland has ever been is 675 feet. That was back in January of 1981.

There’s lots of concern for those who work and play around Lake Cumberland. Officials say water levels in the lake will be 40 feet lower than normal this year because of work being done to Wolf Creek Dam. Those who depend on the lake for business, worry they’ll be high and dry this summer.

Like most people the Salazars vacation on Lake Cumberland for its scenic beauty but now there’s a big question as to whether the 9th largest reservoir in the country will be as beautiful this summer, or as accessible.

“Main thing we worry about is having enough water to get past Alligator Two and having enough water to float your boat at this marina,” said Dess Salazar, Alligator One Marina tourist.

The lake is already low to reduce pressure on the leaking Wolf Creek Dam in the wake of a $300 million, seven year repair job. The U.S. Army Corps had planned to keep the summer pool close to normal but now that’s changed because federal officials say the dam has a “high risk” of failing.

“I think the money is there. I wish they would speed up so that marinas like this one wouldn’t be down on the bottom,” Salazar said.

But Slusser isn’t worried his docks will sit in the mud. He’s just wondering what dropping this lake ten more feet will do.

“Six-hundred and eighty feet level, not going to allow us to do services that we did in the past. We won’t be able to pump gas,” Slusser said.

The lower lake level means it will be more difficult to access the lake. U.S. government said they will help dock owners extend boat ramps in a program they’re calling Mitigation and now Governor Fletcher, with the lake in Burnside to his back, is meeting with both National Guard and emergency managers to make sure the multi million dollar tourism industry doesn’t bottom out but some question whether the government is telling the whole story.

“They don’t want a panic situation and two, I don’t think they really know,” Salazar said.

“Don’t want to say it’s going to bankrupt us but it’s obviously going to affect the customers at the lake,” Slusser said.

And since the problem is much worse than first reported, the job to fix the leak is expected to start sooner than expected.

The repair work will involve a grouting substance put down inside the dam to create a concrete wall to plug the leak. The Army Corps said ‘emergency measures’ are being taken to accelerate the work.

To view the press release concerning this matter, click here.