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Lake Cumberland

February 24, 2007 by Charles Bertram  
Filed under Charles Bertram

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Lake Cumberland was formed when Wolf Creek Dam was constructed across the Cumberland River in 1950. The lake is so large it touches four Kentucky counties — Pulaski, Wayne, Russell, and Clinton. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers announced on Jan. 22 that the 56-year old dam is leaking and at high risk of failure. Construction crews are already at work; the repair is expected to take seven years. In what was called an emergency move, the corps lowered the water level to 680 feet above sea level, which is 43 feet below normal summer level. The lower level already has had a dramatic economic impact on marinas and other businesses that depend of lake traffic. On Sunday, Feb. 25, the Herald-Leader will publish a package of stories, a graphic, and photographs that show what the lake looks like at the target depth of 680 feet.

I have family in Wayne County and have been familiar with the lake much of my life. I have seen the lake at low levels due to droughts and when repairs were made to the dam in the 1970s, but that was nothing compared to the sight at the current level. This past week I spent several days with Herald-Leader writer Bill Estep, who works out of the Herald-Leader’s Somerset Bureau, driving around much of the lake, talking to marina owners, local residents, and tourists. At just about every stop, someone would say they’ve never seen the lake this low. Many marina owners were concerned for their businesses, and they wanted to remind people that there are still over 35,000 surface acres for water activities. Some are upset that the media is only showing the dried up areas of the lake. But, it’s difficult to ignore that aspect when visually telling the story of the lake’s current situation. In addition to the ground photography, I spent two uncomfortable hours in a small airplane photographing the lake from 1,200 feet, and while the photographs show the dramatic drop in the water level, they also show there’s plenty of water left for recreation.

Check out for links to the story and a photo gallery.

Charles Bertram/Staff

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