Endangered Duskytail Darter

Duskytail DarterAn endangered fish in the headwaters of Lake Cumberland will likely prevent raising the water level in the reservoir to the traditional summer mark for the eighth year in a row, dashing the hopes of some business owners and lake users for deeper water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday that it had found populations of the tiny duskytail darter in five miles of stream area in the headwaters of the lake.

Letting the lake surface rise to the traditional level of 723 feet above sea level for the start of the summer tourism season would inundate the areas.

The corps can’t do anything that would damage the habitat until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concurs on a plan to minimize the impact on the fish.

The two agencies probably can’t finish the process in time for the corps to let spring rains accumulate and push the lake level to 723 feet by Memorial Day.

That would leave the target elevation at 705 feet.

“The likelihood of getting significantly above 705 is probably not very great” for this summer, though it is not out of the question, said Don Getty, manager of a project to fix leaks in Wolf Creek Dam, which impounds the giant reservoir.

That was not welcome news for some lake users and businesses, who believed a return to the traditional summer pool level would boost visitation.

“There’s just no question it’s gonna hurt,” said J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee’s Ford Resort Marina, which is on the Fishing Creek branch of the lake in Pulaski County.

The Corps of Engineers declared an emergency and quickly drained water from the lake in January 2007 after concluding there was a high risk the dam could fail.

Visitation at the lake dropped more than 10 percent the first year of the drawdown, in part because of an incorrect perception there wasn’t enough water left to enjoy.

Some businesses saw much bigger downturns, and several marinas closed or struggled financially. There are nine commercial marinas open on the lake now, down from 11 before the drawdown.

Visitation still has not climbed back to the 2006 level of 4.4 million. About 3.8 million visited in 2012.

The corps lowered the lake level to ease pressure on Wolf Creek Dan during a $594 million project to fix leaks. CONTINUE READING….