NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - No rain and two leaking dams are causing low water levels all along the Cumberland River system and could make boating hazardous this summer and harm fisheries.
As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers struggles to repair the Wolf Creek and Center Hill dams while also providing water for drinking, power generation and commercial navigation, the needs of boaters are a low priority, Corps spokesmen Bill Peoples said.
Low water levels in the system's lakes could expose rocks and underwater debris to boats and leave some parts of the lakes inaccessible, he said. And although protecting fisheries is a high priority, that might not be possible if the drought continues.
Normally, reserves of water at huge Lake Cumberland, in Kentucky, could help relieve the drought downstream and keep plenty of water in the entire river system. But the Corps has had to lower that lake considerably to relieve pressure on the leaking Wolf Creek Dam until repairs can be made. Repairs also are needed on the Center Hill Dam, where water is being kept a few feet lower than normal.
For the time being, Dale Hollow Lake is being kept at higher than normal levels to provide an emergency backup supply of water. Cordell Hull, Old Hickory and Cheatham Lakes also are at slightly higher than normal levels, but can only provide limited backup because they are all along the Cumberland River.
J. Percy Priest and Center Hill lakes are large reservoirs that could help keep water flowing in the system, but only temporarily. Depending on the severity of the drought, all those lakes could go far below normal levels.
The corps is especially concerned about cold water fisheries below the Wolf Creek and Center Hill Dams. For the time being, the fish are thriving, but as there is less water to release and water temperatures rise they could begin to die.
Old Hickory Lake already is showing low levels of the dissolved oxygen fish need to survive and if the drought worsens it could hurt fish in that and other lakes as well.
While drinking water is the Corps' top priority, maintaining water quality and protecting the fish is second.
Then comes providing water for commercial navigation. Right now, the Corps is providing "windows of opportunity" for large boats to traverse the river system, Peoples said.
The Corps also is attempting to provide water for power generation at the Sherman Cooper Power Plant, the Gallatin Steam Plant and the Cumberland City Power Plant, among others. That is a lower priority because there are other sources of power available, he said.
Providing water for recreation comes last.
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