Dangerous Dam

Thursday, February 15th 2007, 9:32 am
By: News On 6

RUSSELL SPRINGS, Ky. (AP) _ Engineers may have to further lower a lake if some preliminary repairs to a leaky dam don't work, which could cause a crunch at lakeside power plants and threaten drinking water supplies, officials said Wednesday.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the water level on Lake Cumberland next year might have to be reduced to 650 feet above sea level to reduce the risk to Wolf Creek Dam, which holds back the giant lake in southeastern Kentucky.

That would leave water intakes serving 200,000 people too high, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said Wednesday. It might also mean East Kentucky Power Cooperative's coal-fired plant next to the lake would have to stop operations.

Sewer systems would also need to extend their discharge pipes to make sure their treated sewage doesn't spill on dry land, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported.

Kevin Osbourn, spokesman for East Kentucky Power, said the Army Corps reported that the water level would be lowered only if grouting repairs don't work. The grouting is the first stage of a seven-year, $309 million project to fix the leaky dam.

A phone call to Corps offices in Nashville went unanswered Wednesday night, and e-mails to a spokesman were not returned.

Teresa J. Hill, secretary of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, said officials are already starting to help water and sewer agencies in several counties to determine what they will need to do, how much it will cost and how they can pay for it.

Water systems in five counties draw water from the lake. Nicky Smith, the mayor of Albany, Ky., said building a new intake would cost his city alone an estimated $6.2 million.

``We (can) either move it and have water, or not have water,'' Smith told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lowering the water could force the Cooper Power Station, which depends on lake water to cool two generating units, to stop producing electricity, resulting in rolling brownouts across parts of Kentucky, said Mark David Goss, chairman of the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

``We're not going to let that happen,'' Goss said. Alternatives include building a cooling tower or extending the intake pipes, officials have said.

Lower water levels would also likely shutter the dam's hydropower plant, which provides power to the region during peak periods.

Goss said that would mean blackouts, although the Corps has said other dams in the region could fill the void.

The Corps said a decision on whether to lower the lake to 650 feet above sea level after Dec. 31 would be made by September or October.

The agency already announced last month that water levels this summer will be at 680 feet instead of 723 feet, an emergency move necessary to relieve pressure and reduce potential flooding along the Cumberland River in case the dam fails.

The Corps is keeping the water level low this summer to ease pressure on the structure while beginning a seven-year, $309 million repair plan.

Fletcher and some of his advisers said they would do everything they can to make sure communities are ready, including seeking $55 million from the General Assembly.