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GIS Center working with county EMA to model Wolf Creek Dam flooding

Since concerns have arisen about the possibility of the Wolf Creek Dam failing, Austin Peay State Universitys GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Centers Web site has been getting about 1,300 visitors per day, according to Mike Wilson, manager of the GIS Center.
Since concerns have arisen about the possibility of the Wolf Creek Dam failing, Austin Peay State University's GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Center's Web site has been getting about 1,300 visitors per day, according to Mike Wilson, manager of the GIS Center.

What would happen should the dam break is a growing discussionon the Web and in communities downstream from the dam, such as Clarksville. The Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon talk Monday by Steve Jones, director of the Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), titled “How Can a Dam Failure 315 River Miles from Clarksville-Montgomery County Impact Our Community?”

For the past several months, the GIS Center has been assisting Montgomery County EMA officials. By taking antiquated maps and using photo data from the Tennessee Homeland Security District 7, the GIS Center has been able to provide updated impact information and 3-D views of specific land parcels that could flood, should the Wolf Creek Dam rupture.

Located near Jamestown, Ky., Wolf Creek Dam impounds Lake Cumberland, the largest reservoir east of the Mississippi River. Constructed in the 1940s to generate hydroelectricity and prevent flooding, the lake that was created by the dam has become a popular recreational area, drawing about 5 million visitors annually, more than Yellowstone Park.

Signs of seepage, which likely was caused by the karst geology of the region, were spotted first in 1968. The U.S. Corps of Engineers quickly grouted the seepage. In 1975, the Corps built a cutoff wall. However, history has proven the wall was not wide or deep enough.

In 2005, the Corps began to hold the waters of the lake at a near-constant level to reduce stresses on the structure and its foundation. A new long-term solution involving the construction of a bigger, stronger wall was proposed. Remedial work, which began in 2006, is slated to be complete by 2014 at a cost of about $310 million.

In January 2007, after designating the Wolf Creek Dam as being at “high risk” for failure, the U.S. Corps of Engineers began lowering Lake Cumberland to 680 feet, which is 10 feet lower than normal winter pool and 43 feet lower than summer pool. Since then, there's been talk of lowering of the water level further.

People living in Kentucky near Wolf Creek Dam are concerned about the economic impact of tourism lost because of the drawdown of water. Further downstream, in such cities as Clarksville, the primary concern revolves around loss of property and infrastructure.

“The parcel data we have now allows the EMA to identify the property owners who potentially would be affected by the rupture of the dam,” said Wilson. “The EMA has a disaster- notification systemsometimes referred to as a reverse 911--for notifying potentially affected people in emergency situations.” The system will allow 911 to place a call with instructions to identified property owners.

According to the GIS Center data, should Wolf Creek Dam burst, sections of Clarksville could become isolated, due to bridge flooding. However, according to Wilson, the EMA officials say there would be adequate time to notify affected citizens to evacuate.

And although officials think such a rupture of Wolf Creek Dam may result in few deaths, the estimated damages to property exceeds $3 billion.

“At the GIS Center, we see our role as helping our community by generating data that models potential flooding along the Cumberland River,” Wilson said. “We have the capabilities to provide planning toolstools that can be quickly and easily adjusted, if necessary, to help the citizens of Montgomery County in the event of such flooding.”

Digital maps, created by the GIS Center, can be viewed at the APSU GIS Center's Web site (http://gisweb.apsu.edu). For additional information, contact the Montgomery County EMA. -- Dennie B. Burke