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Kentucky Dam | Energy, conservation and recreation

KENTUCKY’S LAKES MAKE for great fishing, boating, cookouts and all kinds of summer fun—but did you know they have conservation and energy functions as well? 

One great example is Kentucky Dam, which supplies hydroelectric power to five Kentucky electric cooperatives through the Tennessee Valley Authority. 

In 1936, TVA started building a series of dams on the Tennessee River to control floods and provide affordable hydroelectric power. The filling of Kentucky Lake in 1945 also provided year-round navigation, linking the Tennessee Valley to the inland waterway system. Construction began on Kentucky Dam in 1938 and was completed in 1944, creating the largest and final dam built on the Tennessee River. 

Kentucky Dam can generate a summer net dependable capacity of 184 megawatts of hydroelectric power. It does this by using the natural flow of water through blades of a turbine that turns a shaft connected to a generator. These generators produce electricity for local power companies, including Gibson EMC, Pennyrile Electric, Tri-County Electric, Warren RECC and West Kentucky RECC. 

Kentucky Dam has many functions. It helps to reduce flooding on 6 million acres along the lower Mississippi and Ohio river system by controlling the amount of water released downstream. A strict water level schedule maintains the ability to control the water level below the dam. The dam maintains a minimum level for navigation, with a winter pool of 354 feet and a summer pool of 359 feet. 

Along with electrical generation, the lock system at Kentucky Dam was a major reason for the construction project nearly 80 years ago. In 1945, President Harry S. Truman made an observation about the success of TVA: “It is common sense hitched up to modern science and good management. And that’s about all there is to it.” This statement has stood the test of time. While the existing Kentucky lock system has served well, there is a new project close to completion, called the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, that will reduce wait times and provide smoother navigation. 

Economic development was another consideration when TVA built Kentucky Dam. Planners envisioned that Kentucky Lake would draw businesses to the area that provide services to outdoors enthusiasts. While fishing and boating are the primary activities enjoyed on the lake, many other opportunities, including hiking, camping, biking, water skiing and hunting, provide a sportsman’s paradise. These outdoor opportunities expanded again when Barkley Dam was impounded. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy designated the more than 170,000 acres between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley as a national recreation area known as Land Between the Lakes. 

Check out Kentucky Lake this summer and see what the fuss is about. While you’re there, learn more about the history of the dam and the lake at the Kentucky Dam Visitors Center. I know you’ll have a blast.

KEN MCBROOM, an outdoors writer/photographer, created McBroom grew up in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and now lives in western Kentucky.

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