Only a couple of days after the US Army Corps of Engineers announced a mission to use West Virginia flood control dams to help alleviate flooding on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, there’s a change.  

"Now that Cairo (Illinois) has crested two feet above the 1937 flood level, we will gradually begin our release from those dams that have been storing flood waters," said Peggy Noel with the Corps of Engineers Huntington District.

The Pittsburgh District of the Corps will also begin a slow release.  The waters in West Virginia include R-D Bailey, East Lynn, Beech Fork, Summersville, and Sutton Lakes in the Huntington District.   Tygart Lake and Stonewall Jackson Lake are also included and are controlled in the Pittsburgh District.   Bluestone Dam and Burnsville Dam were not included in the mission because of ongoing improvement work and are not impacted.

Originally the Corps planned to hold back water for as long as 30-days.   The process threatened to push lake levels far above summer pool for an extended period. Already many of the lakes’ recreational facilities, like boat ramps, picnic areas, and campgrounds have been underwater for days.

"It’s going to be slow and controlled," Noel said. "What this will do is keep the Ohio River at the level that is for a longer period of time without inducing another flood hike.  We have to do this in a controlled way in order to not cause any more flooding."

“Slow and controlled” may be a relative term.  Summersville Lake is going from a release of 200 cfs to 10,000 cfs and lowering the lake by a quarter foot an hour.

"We’ll be running these really high levels for a day or so and then cut it back," said Summersville Dam Manager C-J Hamilton. "We should be getting a boat ramp open sometime tomorrow (Friday) and all the ramps open in about three days, provided we don’t get any more local storms."

How fast the water comes down depends on the impoundment.

"Each of the lakes is different because of their capacity to store different volumes of water," said DNR District Fisheries Biologist Frank Jernejcic. "So you can’t make a blanket statement for each of the lakes."

The announcement from the Corps is good news for fishing and boating enthusiasts who were facing the entire month of May with almost no access to some of the most popular West Virginia waters, during a time when they are most heavily used.

The releases however don’t mean those facilities will automatically reopen.  Soon after the water is down, there’s expected to be a vast amount of cleanup work to do.

"The problem is we’ve got mud on the ramps and debris," said Jernejcic in talking about Tygart Lake. "Normally when we have these high water events it’s a spike, it comes up and goes right back down.  When you have it of a long duration like this you’ve got a lot of sediment on the ramps, so it’s not going to be something where the waters down and you can fish.  I doubt it."

 

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