Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — Low water levels in west Kentucky lakes and inland waterways pose a serious risk for recreational and commercial boaters and mariners.
Chief Petty Officer Dana Fleming of the U.S. Coast Guard’s marine safety office in Paducah, said her office has received no calls for assistance that she knew of from recreational boaters. It has received a few calls for assistance from commercial mariners who have run aground.
“Knock on wood so far, but water levels are predicted to go lower, so that could change,” Fleming said. “It’s something we are definitely watching closely, and we’re keeping industry informed of draft levels. Low water levels are definitely on our radar.”
Scott Brooks, a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said water levels at Kentucky Lake are about 1.5 feet below normal summer pool. Summer pool levels are considered 359 feet, while winter pool is maintained at 355 feet.
“It hasn’t had that major of an impact at this point, and we are not anticipating placing any restrictions on lake usage,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the TVA releases an average of 18,000 cubic feet of water per second at regular intervals during the day to maintain navigable levels down the Tennessee River. Dry conditions means about one-quarter of rainfall in west Kentucky is often absorbed into the ground before entering the Kentucky Lake watershed. Brooks said the Tennessee River has seen normal precipitation east of Chattanooga. He described the situation west of that city as a moderate drought.
“Kentucky has some of the driest conditions along the Tennessee,” Brooks said. “One thing people should know is a few feet makes a difference. For swimmers it may mean a cove may have less water. What was 7 foot could be less than six, making dives dangerous. Boaters should be aware of stumps and sandbars that were not a problem last year.”
Kerry Clark, owner of Jet-A-Marina in Calvert City, said some boats have paid the price. Several boaters have damaged props and lower units of outboard motors. Some boats have taken hull damage and require paint or body work.
“Most of the damage is confined to lower units,” Clark said. “We haven’t had a major catastrophe yet, and thankfully, I haven’t heard of any fatalities. We’ve seen an increase in business, but I couldn’t tell you what percentage.”
While Clark notes lake levels have increased from a few weeks ago, he warns boaters of continued risks.
“At 60 or 70 m.p.h., depth finders won’t save you. Be aware of your surroundings. It’s hard to know what’s out there. Stay in the channel, slow down, and watch your depth finder. Polarized glasses aren’t going to help if you don’t slow down,” Clark said.