Barkley Dam is a concrete gravity and earthfill structure that measures 10,180 ft. The powerplant section of the dam contains four generating units capable of producing 130,000 kilowatts. The spillway section contains 12 tainter gates with a maximum discharge capacity of 520,000 cubic feet per second.
Barkley Dam was authorized for construction in the River and Harbor Act of 1954 for the purpose of navigation, flood control and hydropower. Construction began in June 1957 and completed for full beneficial use in July 1966. Today, Lake Barkley is also managed for recreation as well as fish and wildlife. It is the lowermost mainstream project on the Cumberland River System impounding 118.1 miles of the Cumberland River from River Mile 30.6 above its confluence with the Ohio River to Cheatham Dam (River Mile 148.7).
The project was first identified as the Lower Cumberland Project, but was later redesignated as Barkley Lock and Dam and Lake Barkley in honor of the late Alben W. Barkley, the 35th Vice President and United States Senator from Paducah, Kentucky.