UPDATED: Corps of Engineers to open dams along Cumberland River

Monday, May 3, 2010 at 1:35pm
Staff reports

This story has been updated with detailed information about water releases from nearby dams. See below. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is prepared to open dams along the Cumberland River and its tributaries to try to minimize flooding and reduce lake levels in areas north of Nashville.

The move comes after record high lake elevations at several dams including J. Percy Priest in Nashville; Old Hickory in Hendersonville; and Cheatham in Ashland City.

“Some of these lakes are reaching capacity, and we have a plan to release water from these projects in order to lower those lakes to safe elevations,” said Bob Sneed, water manager for the Nashville District.
“We recognize the impact of releases to communities along the already swollen creeks and rivers, and we will try to balance risks to these communities with risks to those projects whose lakes are reaching capacity,” he said.

Lt. Col. Anthony Mitchell, commander of the Nashville district, said the primary concern is safety.

“Our water managers and dam safety specialists are working around the clock to ensure that our projects are safe and that we minimize flooding wherever possible,” Mitchell said.

• The city of Carthage is currently 6.06 feet above flood stage. The combination of no releases from Center Hill Dam and a series of flow reductions currently underway at Cordell Hull Dam should provide release to the situation.

• Nashville’s flood stage is at 40 feet. The National Weather Service is forecasting the Cumberland River will crest at 51.5 feet around 6 p.m. At 12:30 p.m., the river elevation in Nashville was 51.35 feet. Flow reductions at Old Hickory this afternoon should result in flow reductions at Nashville. An increase in release from J. Percy Priest Dam is scheduled for tomorrow morning.

• Clarksville is currently at 60.78 feet, 14.78 feet above flood stage. The National Weather Service has projected a crest of 60.6 feet tomorrow.

The corps has released details about its water release plans: 

Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River, Jamestown, Ky.

• All hydropower units at Wolf Creek Dam have been shut off to minimize downstream flows and to provide flood protection for Celina and Carthage.

• As local runoff subsides the hydropower units will be brought on-line to start the process of pulling the lake level back down toward the 680 target elevation. That process is likely to begin in the next 12-24 hours.

Dale Hollow Dam on the Obey River, Celina, Tenn.

• All hydropower units have been shut off to minimize flows into Cordell Hull Lake and ultimately provide flood protection for Celina and Carthage

• As local runoff subsides the hydropower units will be opened to start the process of pulling the lake level back down. There is a good chance that spillway gates will need to be opened to pull the lake level down in a timely manner.

Cordell Hull Dam on the Cumberland River, Carthage, Tenn.

• The Cordell Hull Lake area received very large amounts of rainfall late in the day on Sunday resulting in a large inflow to the lake. In order to keep the water from going over the lock gate, a series of increases to spillway releases were implemented overnight. The Cordell Hull lake level crested at elevation 508.33.

• The process is currently underway to make flow reductions at Cordell Hull. This process is expected to continue throughout the Monday. The Cordell Hull reductions will result in smaller inflows to Old Hickory and ultimately to lower river stages at Carthage and points downstream, including Nashville.

• Over the next several days the lake level will be brought back down to the summer pool level of 504.0.

Center Hill Dam on the Caney Fork River, Lancaster, Tenn.

• All hydropower units have been shut off to manage flooding at Carthage. Currently the only release through Center Hill Dam is a very small flow through the orifice gate.

• As local runoff subsides and the Cumberland River at Carthage returns to a nonflooding level the hydropower units will be brought online to start the process of pulling the lake level back down toward the 630 target elevation. That process is likely to begin in the next 12-24 hours.


Old Hickory Dam on the Cumberland River, Hendersonville, Tenn.

• Old Hickory Lake has been used to hold back water from Nashville and was hit with heavy rainfall on Saturday and Sunday, causing the lake to reach a record elevation.

• Releases from the dam began Sunday in order to bring the lake down to a safe level.

• Releases were cut Sunday night to reduce flooding in Nashville, but increased Monday morning when water from upstream lakes reached Old Hickory.

• The lake level at Old Hickory should fall over the next few days, allowing water managers to reduce the discharge from Old Hickory Dam beginning Monday afternoon and continuing for several days.


J. Percy Priest Dam on the Stones River, Nashville, Tenn.

• J. Percy Priest Lake has captured runoff water that has considerably reduced the flooding in Nashville and points downstream.

• Holding back water at J. Percy Priest has resulted in an unusually high lake level. The plan to reduce the lake elevation at J. Percy Priest is to continue with the current hydropower releases.

• The current releases will be supplemented Tuesday with releases from the spillway gates, but the increase in flow will not be made until the releases from Old Hickory Dam are reduced further.

• The timing of the releases from J. Percy Priest are such that the Stones River level should not increase significantly, but will hold steady.

• The result will also be a reduction in flow along the Cumberland River in Nashville.


Cheatham Dam on the Cumberland River, Ashland City, Tenn.

• Cheatham Dam is in free flow with water flowing over the top of the dam’s spillway. The dam was designed to operate in this manner in high water situations.

• Cheatham Lake reached a record level of 402.7, and the lock and resource manager’s facilities have flooded in the process.

• Cheatham will remain in free flow until river flows reach a point that the gates can be placed back in the water and water control capabilities are regained. This will be followed some time later by placing the hydropower units back in service.


Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River in Grand Rivers, Ky.

• The LRD Water Management Office has an ongoing flood control operation for the Ohio River. This means they are in control of operations at both Barkley Dam and Kentucky Dam. We are working closely with LRD and TVA staff to develop operation plans.

• The current plan has Barkley releases going to a total of 300,000 cubic feet per second. This is the largest release in the history of the project.

4 Comments on this post:

By: HokeyPokey on 5/3/10 at 8:04

Excuse my French, but isn't it about va te faire foutre time?

By: geekinstein on 5/3/10 at 8:25

Thank goodness we built these dams and have some control over the flooding. Nashville and Clarksville would have been washed away and thousands would have died had farmers not given up their fertile bottom-lands and TVA had not built these dams.

By: nlnagy on 5/3/10 at 9:54

Excuse my French, but isn't it about va te faire foutre time?

Agree. And they are only now "developing an operations plan"???? And well you know.... poor people don't live on the lakes.... so you know... gotta keep them from losing their property and throw the rest of us to the wind... this is the reason why you are finally seeing some action from TVA.

This is a terrible mess and tragedy. The dams were built for electricity with all the pretty lakes for the icing on the top.

By: volstitans on 5/5/10 at 7:52

One of the local channels (I think Channel 2) spoke to a member of the Corps of Engineers on Saturday. The question concerned the speed of spillage at the dams downstream; I assume Cheatham & Barkley dams. I was expecting an answer concerning the balancing act the Corps must perform with all the river & lake levels.

But I was shocked at the answer and have heard nothing since. At the time there was still ample room for much more water downstream. But he stated that the Corps must do this very slowly because of the "eco situation" with the fish. He went on to say that the water temperatures could be much different and adversely affect the fish.

Is this a federal environmental law or just the judgment of the Corps of Engineers? The most avid fisherman would gladly sacrifice barge loads of fish for the safety of residents and the tremendous economic impact of the area. I have contacted a few of our state congressional people and insist there should be an investigation.