NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 5, 2019) – The 10 dams operated by the Corps of Engineers in the Cumberland River Basin performed as designed during the wettest February on record, saving an estimated $1.72 billion in would-be flood damage to the region.
The ability to hold back water where possible reduced impacts in Nashville by as much as 16 feet, preventing $1.5 billion of damage that would have resulted from higher water. The water level on the Cumberland River in Music City reached 40.93 feet with projects operating, but would have reached an estimated 57.2 feet if the storage projects upstream were not in existence. It would have exceeded the May 2010 event by nearly five feet and exceeded the flood of record in 1927 by nearly a foot.
According to the National Weather Service, the Corps of Engineers’ dams also held the water elevation down on the Cumberland River to 33.8 feet in Carthage, Tenn., 26 feet lower than the 59.8-foot record set Dec. 30, 1926, and 32.61 feet in Celina, Tenn., 25 feet lower than the 57.25-foot record set Dec. 29, 1926.
The NWS indicated that most of the state of Tennessee received record amounts of rainfall in February. Nashville had 13.47 inches of rain, surpassing the previous record of 12.37 set in 1880.
“It is a great news story about the successful development of the Cumberland River Basin over the past 130 years,” said Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander. “The Cumberland River is a highly regulated river system and the careful engineering, planning, and management of the reservoir system provides far reaching benefits for the region. Our water managers continue to draw down our storage reservoirs and pass water down the Cumberland River to position the system for more rainfall expected during the rainy season in March and April.”
The Nashville District continues to release water as downstream conditions allow, especially at Wolf Creek Dam, Dale Hollow Dam, Center Hill Dam and J. Percy Priest Dam, to regain storage in preparation for future rainfall. High water impacts are expected along waterways due to ongoing releases.
Anthony Rodino, Nashville District Water Management Section chief, said it will likely take months for the storage reservoirs to return to normal levels. During the last significant rainfall event in late February, the Nashville District utilized a total of 68 percent of flood storage capacity. Releases over the past week has increased storage capacity with 58.55 percent of flood storage now available.
Rodino said the current operating plan is to maintain releasing water at Wolf Creek Dam, Dale Hollow Dam, Center Hill Dam and J. Percy Priest Dam to regain storage and draw these pools down to seasonal levels.
“Waterways below these dams will continue to move more swiftly at higher elevations due to the water discharges,” Rodino said.
As of 2 p.m. today, the Nashville District is operating its storage reservoirs as indicated:
- J. Percy Priest Dam on the Stones River in Nashville, Tenn., is discharging water at a rate of 11,140 cubic feet per second. The lake is currently at elevation 493.13 feet.
- Center Hill Dam on the Caney Fork River in Lancaster, Tenn., is discharging water at a rate of 22,411 cfs. The lake is currently at elevation 670.36 feet.
- Dale Hollow Dam on the Obey River in Celina, Tenn., is discharging water at a rate of 7,738 cfs. The lake is currently at elevation 657.30 feet.
- Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River in Jamestown, Ky., is discharging water at a rate of 57,850 cfs, which means that water will completely fill the river channel downstream of the dam. The lake is currently at elevation 749.13, down from its record elevation of 756.52 reached Feb. 26.
The releases at Wolf Creek Dam continue to impact areas near the river and to cause some backwater with other small streams that run into the river. Public safety remains a high priority and the Corps of Engineers is working with state officials to communicate with land owners downstream about the higher releases. The Nashville District is communicating with the Louisville District Emergency Management Operations Center and they are in turn communicating with Kentucky Emergency Management.
Residents can contact emergency managers for Russell County at 270-343-2112, Ext. 1402; Clinton County at 606-387-8636; Cumberland County at 270-864-2511, Ext. 339; Wayne County at 606-348-3302; and Monroe County at 270-487-5505 for more information about the increased releases at Wolf Creek Dam.
As of 2 p.m. today, the Nashville District is operating its reservoirs on the main stem Cumberland River as indicated:
- Cordell Hull Dam in Carthage, Tenn., is discharging water at a rate of 64,370 cfs. The lake is elevation 499.32 feet.
- Old Hickory Dam in Old Hickory, Tenn., is discharging water at a rate of 99,980 cfs. The lake is elevation 443.86.
- Barkley Dam in Grand Rivers, Ky., is discharging water at a rate of 175,000 cfs. The lake is elevation 366.40. The Nashville District continues to operate the project in conjunction with Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kentucky Dam to assist with flood risk management operations for the lower Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Barkley’s flood control pool stores more water when a flood crest moves its way down the Ohio River.
As the Corps of Engineers recovers flood storage in the tributary projects following the record rainfall in February, officials are already watching the next weather system expected to arrive this weekend.
The public is encouraged to monitor water levels and dam releases in the Cumberland River Basin with the mobile web site “River Status” at http://riverstatus.usace.army.mil/.
“My water management team will continue to monitor conditions as they develop and reassess operations as needed throughout the Cumberland River Basin,” Jones said.
For more information about how the Nashville District operates the Cumberland River Reservoir System, see the Water Management Education Series at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Missions/WaterManagement/EducationSeries.aspx.
As necessary, news and information regarding water management and flood operations will be made available on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.