NR 15-042: Lake Barkley supports Ohio and Mississippi flood operations

Published Dec. 30, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 30, 2015)  – Lake Barkley on the Cumberland River and Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River play a key role in reducing flood crests along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

This is accomplished by storing water in these lakes to keep it out of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during flood events. Ongoing regional flood control operations involves multiple offices from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, National Weather Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. 

This is in response to a series of rainfall events that have occurred in the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys over the past several days.  The Barkley and Kentucky projects are designed and operated to provide flood control benefits for the Lower Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Flow reductions at both projects are being initiated today in advance of a Mississippi River flood crest that is currently forecast to reach the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on Jan. 5, 2016.

Today’s flow reductions will be followed by more reductions on Thursday and Friday that will hold back a large volume of water from the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers from reaching the Mississippi River, thus reducing the magnitude of the flood crest on the Mississippi River and significantly reducing the magnitude of flood impacts.

When flows out of Barkley and Kentucky Dams are reduced the lake levels behind these structures will rise.  A rise in lake level at both lakes of around 15 feet is expected in the next 7-10 days. 

Nashville District water managers will be reducing releases from upstream storage projects (lakes) within the Cumberland Basin to offset some of the pool rise in Barkley and Kentucky; however, in order for these projects to carry out what they were designed to do a significant rise in their lake levels is inevitable.

The highest Lake Barkley lake level on record (going back 50 years) for the month of January was in 1974 when the pool reached elevation 363.9.  At this time the projected elevation for this event is 369.3.

Lake Barkley is the most downstream project within the Cumberland Basin reservoir system.  While it provides hydropower and navigation benefits, it is now providing a valuable flood damage reduction benefit for the ongoing flood fight.  A large volume of storage within Lake Barkley is being used to reduce the flows out of Barkley Dam to support efforts to reduce the flood crest on the Ohio River as it approaches Cairo, Ill.

As necessary, news and information regarding water management and flood operations will be made available on the district’s website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at For more information about the Memphis District, go to For more information about the Louisville District, go to


Release no. 15-039