Fish And Wildlife Service Completes Biological Opinion And U.S. Army Corps Approves, To Raise Lake Cumberland Water Level

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the past few months, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday finalized the Biological Opinion that clears the way for the Corps to resume normal operations at Lake Cumberland immediately. 

With formal consultation complete, on Tuesday Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham, commanding general, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, made the decision to allow Lake Cumberland to rise to a target elevation of 723 feet this summer, which is the normal elevation at the beginning of the recreation season.  The Corps and staff from the Service’s Kentucky Field Office implemented an expedited review and analysis process to complete the Biological Opinion in less than 45 days.  The normal consultation process allows up to 135 days.  The Biological Opinion is posted at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/03/25/2014-06502/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-5-year-status-reviews-of-33-southeastern-species.

“As a result of the Biological Opinion and Brig. Gen. Burcham’s decision to increase the pool elevation, we will begin immediately to capture water in Lake Cumberland,” said Lt. Col. John Hudson, commander, Nashville District. “Reaching our target peak elevation of 723 feet this year will be dependent on the amount and timing of rainfall.”  

The completion of the Biological Opinion was the final piece of information required to make a decision about the Lake Cumberland pool level.  The dam safety remedial measures had previously been reviewed by Corps dam safety professionals, who recommended returning the lake to normal operations for 2014.

The Corps discovered the duskytail darter, listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, during a required biological survey associated with the dam safety project at Wolf Creek Dam.  Duskytail darters were found at seven new locations in the headwaters portion of the Big South Fork embayment in Lake Cumberland in stream habitat that was exposed during the drawdown.

“Collectively, these measures will help minimize impacts to the species and ensure the duskytail darter’s future survival in the Big South Fork,” said Lee Andrews, Field Office supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Kentucky.  “We understand the recreational and economic importance of Lake Cumberland in southeast Kentucky and have worked closely with the Corps to expedite this review.  This is another good example of how our implementation of the Endangered Species Act can balance economic and other human needs with the needs of our rarest species.”

The Corps and the service agreed to move forward with three primary conservation measures that were essential to the service’s analysis of the project’s effects on the duskytail darter. The three conservation measures are: Capture and Hold – capturing duskytail darters and establishing a temporary, captive population of the species for future recovery efforts of the darter; Water Quality/Habitat Improvement – the Corps will remediate two acid mine drainages on tributaries of the Big South Fork and also complete one sediment abatement/soil stabilization project; and Interim Dam Adjustment - the Corps will modify operations at the Wolf Creek Dam to follow the Top Southeastern Power Administrative (SEPA) Curve during the Winter and Spring filling cycle with an overall goal of reaching elevation 723 around the middle of May. This interim operation will last for a minimum of three years, or longer, if the water quality improvements have not been completed.

The darters will be maintained and propagated at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Russell County as part of the recovery effort and will, over time, be used in reintroduction or population augmentation efforts.  Any reintroduction effort will require additional coordination with participating agencies.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  For more information on its work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.  Connect with its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch its YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from its Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps Nashville District website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps.

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