Darren Doyle, story and photos:
The Edmonson County Water District is currently pumping at safe levels since the removal of Green River Dam No. 5 has been halted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District. The dam is located in the Roundhill community of Butler County near the Edmonson line.
According to Edmonson County Water District Manager Tony Sanders, levels were at a critical level about three weeks ago. Sanders said that when water officials discovered the issue, they contacted the proper personnel which eventually led to the project being halted.
The removal project was first announced on September 20, 2021 by the USACE. In a statement released that day, the USACE said:
"Green River Lock and Dam #5 was built in 1933-34 at river mile 168.1 for commercial use. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ceased operation of the structure in 1951. Since then, the structure has been unused, creating a pooled condition in the river with lower oxygen levels, more sediment, and higher temperatures – conditions that are detrimental for aquatic life and the overall health of the river. The dam also presents a barrier to boat traffic, and a public safety hazard. Removal will address all of these challenges."
However, one of the challenges not discussed was the event of extremely dry conditions during the project. While aquatic life and river health are both important, the Water District has to maintain a certain level in order to service their thousands of customers in the area. Since the project was halted, the river levels have been sufficient for the Water District, despite the dry conditions. Last weekend's rain, combined with the pause in the project, brought the river levels up about a foot, Sanders said; however, last night's rain affected them very little.
Sanders said the apparent issue of monitoring the levels stemmed from a faulty gauge.
"One of the comments that I made to the Core the day they were here, was that I really couldn't believe that the Corps of Engineers was not monitoring what was going on and we had to be the one that watched everything, then get a hold of them to try to get this halted," he said. "When that gauge went out, they should've said 'hey, we need to stop until we can get this fixed,' and it was out for at least a week before we were able to get it put back in."
U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie visited Brownsville boat ramp at the Green River on June 28th with local water officials.
“I recently visited Brownsville to see the Green River’s low water levels firsthand due to the active removal of a dam by the Corps of Engineers and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife," Rep. Guthrie told the Edmonson Voice. "I thank Edmonson County officials for updating me on the latest regarding this concerning water issue to advocate for solutions with the Corps of Engineers. I will continue to serve as a liaison between Edmonson County and the Corps of Engineers and will step in, if necessary, to ensure any issues between the local and federal government officials are promptly worked out to protect the community’s water supply."
The USFWS dam removal crew is still onsite performing work that does not impact current dam elevation, according to a statement from the USACE.
Today, Katelyn C. Newton, Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District, told the Edmonson Voice that their team members visited the Edmonson County Water intake along with Water District Officials on June 14th to monitor the pool and that the pool levels were not of concern at that time.
"As soon as we were made aware of the concerns, we immediately halted work on the removal of the dam to prevent further loss of pool," she added. "We fully understand the concerns of the Edmonson County Water District. Removal efforts will not resume until their access to water supply is assured. We will continue to coordinate with The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Edmonson County Water District to develop a long-term solution."
It is important to note that the critical levels are due to a combination of both the removal of the dam and extremely dry June conditions. Sanders said that since the removal has been temporarily halted, there is no current emergency, even though the intake can be seen due to low water levels. Those low levels, according to Sanders, can make the intake susceptible to damage from a stray log or other debris that might float down the river.
"If the level falls off any more then it would be an emergency," he said. "Everyone is trying to work together to see that the issue is resolved. My only fear is who is going to pay for what."
Boats cannot currently enter the water at the Brownsville ramp. Canoe and kayak travel across the area of the former Green River Dam No. 6 is not possible during this time; however, the Edmonson County Water District is currently pumping at full capacity.
According to the USACE, Green River Lock and Dam No. 5 was built in 1933-34 for commercial use, but operation of the structure ceased in 1951 as it was no longer needed for navigation. Federal legislation, under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, was signed into law in 2016 deauthorizing the lock and dam site from the USACE inventory and directing its removal.