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NR 23-16: Reservoirs below summer pool elevations due to lack of rain

Nashville District
Published June 6, 2023
This is Wolf Creek Dam at Lake Cumberland June 6, 2023, in Jamestown, Kentucky. The lake’s elevation is currently about six feet below the normal summer pool level of 721 feet in early June due to lack of rainfall in the spring. (USACE Photo by Misty Cravens)

This is Wolf Creek Dam at Lake Cumberland June 6, 2023, in Jamestown, Kentucky. The lake’s elevation is currently about six feet below the normal summer pool level of 721 feet in early June due to lack of rainfall in the spring. (USACE Photo by Misty Cravens)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 6, 2023) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s water managers report that two reservoirs in the Cumberland River Basin did not receive enough rain this spring to reach their traditional summer pool elevations.

Robert Dillingham, hydraulic engineer in the Nashville District Water Management Section, reported that Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake did not get to their typical summer elevation due to hydrologic conditions.

“Water managers control outflow - discharge through the dam, but inflow is received via rainfall in the watershed.  In mid-March, reservoir elevations were on target, but rainfall runoff has been unseasonably dry since mid-March and thus reservoir elevations behind Wolf Creek and Dale Hollow Dams will likely not reach the top of their targets this summer,” Dillingham said.

The Nashville District’s storage reservoirs, which are Lake Cumberland, Dale Hollow Lake, Center Hill Lake, and J. Percy Priest Lake, each follow a unique seasonal guide curve where reservoir elevations rise in the spring and draw down in the late summer and fall. Water managers perform a balancing act to maintain available storage throughout the spring for flood risk management while also slowly filling the reservoir to capture water for multi-purpose use throughout the rest of the year. While Center Hill Lake and J. Percy Priest Lake did reach their summer pool levels, Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake did not.

As of June 5, 2023, Wolf Creek Dam at Lake Cumberland had a pool elevation of 714.9 feet.  The typical target is elevation 723 feet by mid-May.  The historical median elevation for early June is 721 feet.  In addition, there is not an option to simply “shut off” the flow of water from Wolf Creek Dam to allow it to fill. 

Dillingham explained that while the water being released from Wolf Creek Dam is below historical median flows, it is still critically important for the entire reach of the Cumberland River that it continues. The historical median May flow from Wolf Creek Dam is 10,500 cubic feet per second. In May 2023, the average flow was 3,100 cfs.

At this time, more than 50% of the water flowing through Nashville is originally released from Wolf Creek Dam.  This water provides clean hydroelectric energy at Wolf Creek Dam and again at four additional hydropower plants as it makes its way towards the Ohio River.  Additionally, this water is critically important for water quality, water supply, commercial navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Cumberland River Basin. 

“It would take more than two inches of rainfall in a single rainfall event in the Wolf Creek and Dale Hollow watersheds for the reservoirs to reach summer pool elevations,” Dillingham said.  “While receiving significant rainfall events are possible during the summer months, it is highly likely that the lakes would not reach these elevations during this recreation season as water will continue to be released from both projects in the meantime.”

As of June 5, 2023, Dale Hollow Dam at Dale Hollow Lake had a pool elevation of 648.4 feet. The typical target is elevation 651 feet by mid-May.  The historical median elevation for early June is 650.  Much like at Wolf Creek Dam, releasing water from Dale Hollow must continue as well.  While the water being released is below historical median flows, it is still critically important for the entire reach of the Cumberland River that it continues. Historical median May flow from Dale Hollow is 1,500 cfs. In May 2023, the average flow was 370 cfs.

This water provides clean hydroelectric energy at Dale Hollow and again at four additional hydropower plants as it makes its way towards the Ohio River. Additionally, this water is critically important for water quality, water supply, commercial navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Cumberland River Basin. 

Late spring and early summer rainfall patterns can be unpredictable and scattered.  The J Percy Priest and Center Hill watershed each received isolated rainfall events throughout April and May, which allowed those reservoirs to be filled towards typical levels - elevation 648 feet at Center Hill Lake, and elevation 490.5 feet at J Percy Priest Lake. In calendar year 2023, Lake Cumberland rose almost 30 feet, but it wasn’t possible to fill the last eight feet of the typical seasonal fill cycle.

Resource Managers Jonathan Friedman at Lake Cumberland and Crystal Tingle at Dale Hollow Lake want the public to know that there is still plenty of water in these lakes for the public to enjoy and the current pool elevations will not have a negative impact on recreation.

Water management information for the Cumberland River Basin to include a basin overview, hourly project data, river conditions, precipitation summary, reservoir forecasts, generation schedules, and data for project basins can be obtained at https://www.lrn-wc.usace.army.mil/. The water management page for Lake Cumberland is https://www.lrn-wc.usace.army.mil/basin_project.shtml?p=wol and the water management page for Dale Hollow Lake is https://www.lrn-wc.usace.army.mil/basin_project.shtml?p=dal.

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at https://www.linkedin.com/company/u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-nashville-district.


Contact
Bill Peoples
615-736-7161
chief.public-affairs@usace.army.mil

Release no. 23-014

Chick Lock

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