FRANKFORT, Ky. – Governor Steve Beshear on Tuesday praised the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) for deciding to raise the water levels at Lake Cumberland to 723 feet above sea level this summer. Water levels at Lake Cumberland have not been at the traditional 723-foot level since January 2007.
“The Corps’ decision to raise water levels at Lake Cumberland will give a much-needed economic boost to the citizens and businesses throughout the region that rely on tourism dollars,” said Gov. Beshear. “I am pleased that the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have expeditiously resolved the issues facing endangered habitat within the water, and that the lake will be open at conventional levels in time for the summer season. This is wonderful news for Lake Cumberland residents and everyone who enjoys fishing and boating at this first-rate Kentucky tourism destination.
The USACE initially drained water from the lake in January 2007 after concluding there was a high risk that Wolf Creek Dam could fail due to leaking water channels. Since that time, the leaks have been successfully repaired, and the Corps was expected to raise the lake to normal levels in time for the 2014 summer tourism season.
However, in January, the Corps announced that due to the discovery of new habitats of duskytail darters, an endangered species, the water level could not be raised because it would put the fish population at risk. The fish were found at seven new locations in the headwaters portion of the Big South Fork embayment in Lake Cumberland.
Gov. Beshear contacted the Nashville USACE office in February to express his concern about the impact of delaying the raising of the lake level, particularly for a region that depends heavily on fishing and outdoor recreation tourism.
“This is great news,” said Bob Stewart, secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. “This will have an immediate and significant impact on this year’s tourism season on and around one of Kentucky’s most popular recreational destinations.”
USACE worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite the Biological Opinion, which was necessary for the Corps to return the lake to its normal recreation season level of 723 feet. The Corps and the Service will implement three conservation measures to protect the duskytail darter.
The Corps will begin to capture water in Lake Cumberland immediately; how quickly the lake returns to its peak target elevation will depend on rainfall totals and frequency.
A release from the Army Corps of Engineers is available here.