Center Hill Lake back to normal after 15 years of repairs to dam

Local News

SMITHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In 2005, Center Hill Dam was classified as a high-risk dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and an independent panel of dam safety experts.

This led the corps of engineers to execute a $353 million dollar repair called the ‘Center Hill Dam Safety Rehabilitation Project’.

Had the dam ever failed, it would have been catastrophic for people downstream along the Caney Fork River, and the Cumberland River that it empties into.

The good news is, that it’s all fixed now. But it was a monumental engineering feat that took three steps to complete and fifteen years to complete.

First, there was a grouting project at the main dam embankment and left rim. The contractor pumped flow-able concrete into the foundation to fill voids.

Then there was a 2.5-feet thick foundation cut-off wall installed on the lake-side of the dam. It extends as deep as 308-feet from the top of the dam, deep into the solid-rock foundation to prevent future seepage through the limestone.

There were also repairs made to a secondary auxiliary dam on the east side of the main dam. Some refer to it as a ‘fuse plug’ dam that would be used to alleviate pressure on the main dam if a major flood ever occurred.

“This auxiliary dam is designed to safely route for an emergency spillway,” explained Jill Kelley, the Center Hill Dam Safety Project Manager. “So it will take that high flow and route it down and around the corner and come right back around to the Caney Fork.”

Now, the project is complete and visitors to the lake are able to enjoy normal pool levels this recreation season for the first time in 15 years. Since 2005, the lake was drawn down as much as 18- feet so the repairs could be made.

“Since the Center Hill Dam rehab project has been completed, the lake levels were allowed to return back to their normal summer pool which is 648-feet above mean sea level”, explained Park Ranger Gary Bruce. “With that being the case, some of the areas over the last few years that were inaccessible, some boat ramps, even access to Burgess Falls and Fancher Falls by water, people can once again access those areas by boat.”

The Corps of Engineers also made improvements to a popular recreational area on the lake side of the dam. Three first-class picnic shelters were installed, the boat ramp was expanded to two lanes, and the parking lot is three to four times larger than before.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.

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