No more free Lake Cumberland water for cities, businesses


SOMERSET (AP) — After a $600 million repair of the Wolf Creek Dam that impounds Lake Cumberland, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says cities and businesses that have long drawn the water for free will have to start paying. And they will have to contribute toward any future repairs.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports supplying water was not an authorized purpose for the Wolf Creek Dam when Congress approved funding in the 1930s. It was built to prevent flooding along the Cumberland River and provide hydroelectric power.

After the dam was finished in 1951, the lake became increasingly important as a water source for the region.

Congress said the corps could accommodate that need, but only if it didn’t have a significant impact on the authorized purposes of the dam and lake, said Loren McDonald, an engineer heading the agency’s study of water allocation.

The corps is now studying the feasibility of reallocating storage capacity to water supply, including how much should be allocated to each user and what it should cost.

Once the study is done, municipal water systems and industrial users will have to begin paying for their share of water storage in the lake. That will include a one-time fee for their portion of the storage space and an annual fee for operating and maintaining the dam and lake.

Currently using the water for free are water systems in Somerset, Burnside, Monticello, Jamestown, Albany, and McCreary County; a federal fish hatchery in Russell County; General Burnside Island State Park; Woodson Bend Resort; Kingsford Charcoal; and a Pulaski County power plant.

Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said he is not worried about the annual fee, but he has understood the initial fee could be $1 million or more for Somerset, which provides water to 20,000 households.

Girdler and other local officials said water systems operate on essentially a break-even basis, so new costs would likely mean higher rates. But water users will be able to spread out the initial fee over 30 years.

Lake Cumberland is the only long-term storage reservoir in the Cumberland River basin where municipal and private water users don’t yet pay a fee for storage, according to the corps.

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