Spillways open for unprecedented 3rd year straight

Record level still stands & marinas see relief in sight

By THOMAS P. WEAVER
HORIZON Editor
Feature photo by Kevin Donaldson

CELINA-For an unprecedented third consecutive spring, water began flowing through Dale Hollow Dam flood gates here over the weekend to cut short a nearly record-breaking rise in the lake’s level and calm the nerves of area marina operators.

As reported in last week’s HORIZON, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had alerted marinas “to possibly expect” the lake level “to rise to 661.5 or higher”–which would have been a record level for the reservoir since it’s opening in 1943, but, thanks to implementation of spillway releases, the lake topped out short of the record at 660.16 feet above sea level.

From there, marinas experienced some welcomed relief as the lake level fell nearly a foot and a half from Saturday at noon when the gates were opened through Monday morning as of HORIZON press time.  They watched as water receded from around lakeside structures and portions of their parking lots and access roads began to reappear.

Projections from the Corps, which they say “are always subject to change without notice based upon several variables such as weather, operations at other lakes/dams, downstream conditions, etc.,” show the lake should continue on its downhill pattern for several more days as the open spillways drop the level around nine inches per day, with those projections depicting a level of 655.5 by the end of the upcoming weekend. (Spillway movie link)

Though it did not become the highest ever, this year’s rise did eclipse the third highest elevation on record (659.45 in 1962) by breaking the 660-mark, but it did not surpass the level of 660.82 in May of 1984 or the still-standing all-time record of 660.98 reached on March 15, 1975.

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Not only have the flood gates never been opened three consecutive years like they have now since 2009, but water had only been released through the spillways four times in history before then.  Three of those events directly correspond with the previous top three record elevations (1962, 1975, and 1984), and the other came in the spring of 1989 when the lake only reached just over 656.

A Corps news release said this year’s abnormally high level here was created when the Corps elected to store water from above-average rainstorms over the last few months in area reservoirs to lower river levels and to alleviate flooding on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, which are currently experiencing record flooding.

The other area reservoirs affected were Lake Cumberland, Center Hill, and Percy Priest–all of which have also been dealing with extremely high lake levels.

“A large volume of water, approximately 3,234,000 acre-feet, has been captured in the Cumberland Basin flood storage projects, resulting in significant increases to their lake levels,” the Corps release said.  “For example:

• “the lake level at Wolf Creek Dam has gone up about 45 feet since late February.

• “Dale Hollow Lake has seen a rise of approximately 16 feet over the same period,

• “Center Hill has risen by approximately 31 feet, and

• “J. Percy Priest has seen a rise of nearly 18 feet.”

The release said the figure 3,234,000 acre-feet of water is roughly equivalent to one trillion gallons of water or if stacked on a football field it would be about 593 miles high.

The opening of the flood gates here is part of what the Corps describes in the release as the “process of recovering flood storage capacity in lakes impacted by the recent series of heavy rain events.”

The release also said “this course of action will require the continuous release of water for an extended period of time” at all four reservoirs.

For more information about the local weather and to see more photos of the spillway release, got to www.dalehollowhorizon.com or visit www.wunderground.com/blog/dawgwriter/show.html.  For lake level updates and more about Dale Hollow Lake, go to the Corps local website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil/op/dal/rec/.