For the first time since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowered the water level in Lake Cumberland by 40 feet to ease pressure on the massive Wolf Creek Dam in 2007, the corps has announced it will increase the water level this summer.
While raising the water level in the lake to an elevation of 700 to 705 feet will still be lower than the usual peak lake level of 723 feet in summer, the corps said the higher level should please marina operators and help bring tourists back to the largest manmade lake east of the Mississippi River. That will be a boost to the economy of a region that was hit by the closing a several large clothing manufacturing plants — led by Fruit of the Loom — not long before the water level of the lake was lowered to repair the dam. Thus, the two largest employers in Jamestown and surrounding communities — textiles and tourism — were both hit hard within a short period of time.
The clothing manufacturing plants will never return to the region, but tourism should completely recover once the water level on the lake returns to normal. That won’t be until early 2014, the corps says, but because work on the dam is ahead of schedule, it will begin slowly raising the level later this spring.
The corps says work to install a barrier wall is on track to be completed by early this spring, ahead of the prior completion date of December. The barrier wall is the most crucial part of the nearly $600 million repair project.
The water level was lowered in 2007 when the corps discovered extensive damage to Wolf Creek Dam and deemed work to repair it urgent because a failure of the nearly mile-long dam would flood communities along the Cumberland River all the way to Nashville.
When the water level was dropped, marinas suddenly found their docks ending some distance from the water, making it impossible for boaters to access them. Lake Cumberland had long been one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state with many families spending their vacations on large boats on the lake. Many of those families started looking for somewhere else to vacation.
In time, tourism improved somewhat as marinas extended their docks and people discovered there still was a lot of lake for boating, fishing, swimming and just relaxing. Nevertheless, tourism has never returned to what it was prior to 2007. Maybe it will when the water level is back to “normal” in 2014.
However, the biggest change in the lake will be the one most people will never notice. The large dam protecting scores of communities from flooding will no longer be in danger of collapsing. Even most of those who lost jobs because of the lowering of the water realized the work had to be done.