Monday, 26 February 2007
The Latest on the Wolf Creek Dam Situation: Hyped Scare or Real Danger?

This past Monday, 26 February, I attended an informational public meeting on the Wolf Creek Dam situation held in Clarksville by the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management, and hosted by the Clarksville Chamber of Commerce. For those of you who do not live in communities along the Cumberland, or who don't keep your boats in its marinas, you may have not yet heard of this impending disaster. So a brief overview may be in order. Click here for the link to the Corps of Engineers Nashville District Office.

Wolf Creek Dam impounds the Cumberland River above Burkesville, Kentucky. At normal summer pool of 723', the volume of water in this reservoir is either a) greater than all of the water in the Cumberland downstream of Wolf Creek, or b) greater than all the reservoirs on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers combined, depending on which statistic quoted by various officials is to be believed. What is not questioned “ it is the largest reservoir in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, and the seventh largest in volume in the entire country.

Needless to say, a catastrophic failure of this dam when it is full would not be healthy for our communities along the Cumberland. While there would be ample warning to evacuate people, pets and livestock, the property damage would make Katrina hitting New Orleans look like a minor disaster. One projection had the worst case high water level floating furniture on the fourth floor of Opryland Hotel. In these dire circumstances, our water and sewer treatment plants would be rendered inoperable, and our cities would quickly become uninhabitable. Land transportation would be affected as well, with many highways and railroad lines underwater, and bridge foundations subject to scouring. It would likely be many weeks before flood waters would subside enough to make repairs and begin the cleanup. At Clarksville for example, the worst case scenario calls for the floodwaters to reach Lake Barkley on the second day, rising 1-3 per hour, reaching flood stage of 378' on the third day, cresting at 412' on the ninth day, and staying above flood stage for 2-1/2 weeks.

And it is precisely because such an event would be so calamitous, and because the Corps took such a public relations hit from Katrina, that they are being so closed-mouthed about the probability of a worst case event, and about possible downstream flooding levels if the breach were to occur from the presently lowered 680' emergency elevation instead of the worst case 723' summer pool. The Corps has said that communities which draw their water from Lake Cumberland should extend their water intakes to prepare for a possible lowered level of 650' by 31 December 2007, but then say they have no plans to lower the lake to that level. Interestingly, below 673', Wolf Creek Dam is ˜power dead' for any hydroelectric generation.

One might ask why doesn't the Corps lower the level of all the reservoirs downstream (Cordell Hull, Old Hickory, Cheatham and Barkley) to help cope with such a flood? To do so would cause other problems, including reduction in hydro power generation, the shut down of TVA's coal-fired power plants at Gallatin and Cumberland City for lack of cooling water, and curtailment of barge operations. Lower flow in the Cumberland will mean a higher dose of chemicals to treat our drinking water. Of course, recreational boating would be restricted as well, although for a time, fishing might be improved as more fish are concentrated in a smaller volume of water. Just in the communities around Lake Cumberland alone, one estimate of the decline in tourism-related revenue is $150 million per year. Note to any reader in the market for a used houseboat “ there are some deals to be had at the various marinas on that lake.

How long will this trident of Poseidon be pointed downstream? The planned repairs to Wolf Creek Dam are currently (no pun intended) scheduled to be complete in 2014, but Mike Zoccola, chief of the Civil Design Branch for the Corps, has stated that a 2012 finish might be achieved, given no interruption in funding by Congress.

Submitted by Lt/C Tom Hudson, AP

Posted on 02/26/2007 1:13 PM by Barry
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