Lake Cumberland

Lake Cumberland State Resort Park Dewey Lake Lake Barkley
Lake Cumberland
Wolf Creek Dam and Lake Cumberland, KY.jpg
Lake Cumberland as viewed at Wolf Creek Dam
Lake Cumberland is located in Kentucky
Lake Cumberland
Lake Cumberland
LocationClinton, Laurel, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell, and Wayne Counties, Kentucky
Coordinates36°53′20″N 85°3′0″W / 36.88889°N 85.05000°W / 36.88889; -85.05000
Primary inflowsCumberland River
Primary outflowsCumberland River
Basin countriesUnited States
Surface area265.2 km2 (102.4 sq mi) (area at full pool)
Average depth27.4 metres (90 ft)
Max. depth60 metres (197 ft)
Surface elevation220 metres (722 ft)

Lake Cumberland is a reservoir in Clinton, Laurel, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell, and Wayne counties in Kentucky.[1] The primary reasons for its construction were a means for flood control and the production of hydroelectric power. Its shoreline measures 1,255 miles (2,020 km) and the lake covers 65,530 acres (265 km2) at the maximum power pool elevation. The reservoir ranks 9th in the U.S. in size, with a capacity of 6,100,000 acre feet (7.5 km3) of water, enough to cover the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky with 3 inches (76 mm) of water. The main lake is 101 miles (163 km) long and over one mile (1.6 km) across at its widest point.

The lake has become a major source of tourism and an economic engine for south-central Kentucky. As of September 2011 Lake Cumberland was approximately 43 feet (13 m) below its normal level due to leakage in the earthen part of the dam, but repairs were completed in 2013 and officials estimated that lake levels would be back to normal by 2014–2015. As of April 18, 2015, the lake is back to full summer pool.


Lake Cumberland was impounded from the Cumberland River by the United States Army Corps of Engineers' construction of the Wolf Creek Dam in 1952.[1] Wolf Creek Dam is the 25th largest dam in the United States, and cost $15 million to construct originally, with an additional $65 million needed almost immediately to fix problems which soon became apparent. It is estimated that the dam has prevented more than $500 million in flood damage since its construction.

Dam repairs

In 1967 a leak was found at the Wolf Creek Dam. Repairs were made in the late 1970s at a cost of over $96 million.

On January 22, 2007, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began lowering the water level in Lake Cumberland, fearing a possible breach in Wolf Creek Dam. Water seepage had eroded the limestone under the dam, creating the potential for a breach and subsequent flood that would cause damages into the billions of dollars in cities downstream.[2]

By September 2011 Lake Cumberland was approximately 43 feet (13 m) below its normal level. The drop in water level had a negative impact on the area's tourism industry as marinas and municipalities scrambled to adjust their facilities for the lower water level.[3] The caverns beneath the structure complicated plans for repairs, but a $594 million project to construct a new wall inside the dam was completed by early 2013 and tourism officials were anticipating higher visitation numbers as the lake level was raised to 705 feet.[3]

Since spring of 2014 Lake Cumberland water levels returned to normal operation and water levels.[4]


Power generation

Wolf Creek Dam's six turbines are capable of supplying the needs of an average city (population of 375,000) via 270 megawatts of electricity. The power generating capacity is considered "dead" when the lake's water level is below 673 feet (205 m).


In 1999, approximately 4.75 million visitors added more than $152.4 million to the local economy. Of the 383 lakes controlled or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Cumberland ranks 4th in the nation for the number of visitor hours. Over 1,500 houseboats float on Lake Cumberland and numerous power boats play in its waters.

Lake Cumberland is home to two Kentucky state parks: Lake Cumberland State Resort Park on its shore and General Burnside State Park on an island in the middle of the lake.[1]

Several of Kentucky's record fish have been taken in the waters of Lake Cumberland,[5] including:


Average lake temperatures by month
January 48 °F 9 °C
February 44 °F 7 °C
March 48 °F 9 °C
April 55 °F 13 °C
May 66 °F 19 °C
June 76 °F 24 °C
July 82 °F 28 °C
August 84 °F 29 °C
September 79 °F 26 °C
October 70 °F 21 °C
November 58 °F 14 °C
December 51 °F 11 °C

The lowest water level recorded (since construction) was 675.10 feet (205.77 m) above mean sea level on January 27, 1981. The highest water level recorded was 756.52 feet (230.6 m) above mean sea level at 5:00 AM, February 26, 2019.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kleber, John E., ed. (1992). "Lakes". The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Associate editors: Thomas D. Clark, Lowell H. Harrison, and James C. Klotter. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1772-0.
  2. ^ Alford, Roger (2007-01-22). "Feds fear a dam break in Ky. and Tenn". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2007-01-24. Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  3. ^ a b Estep, Bill (2013-05-25). "With water level higher, optimism rises around Lake Cumberland". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  4. ^ U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville Division
  5. ^ "Kentucky State Record Fish List". Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. 2006-04-17. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2007-02-17.