An effort to raise the dam at Meadow Park Lake by 20 feet continues, with the next phase of environmental studies due to begin this summer.
The studies are part of the city’s efforts to raise the dam and increase its capacity to store raw water to serve its water customers both within the city limits and in other areas of public services for years to come.
“Raising the Meadow Park Dam by 20 feet is expected to add enough raw or untreated water storage to meet all of Cumberland County’s water needs through approximately 2067. It is a solution to Cumberland County’s water needs in the long term,” Kevin Young of JR Wauford and Co. said at the May 3 Crossville City Council business meeting.
Raising the dam will flood approximately 360 acres of additional land around the existing lake. This will have an impact on the environment around the lake.
“It will flood the streams now. What wetlands are now going to be flooded. And what is now wildlife habitat will be fish habitat,” Young said. “These impacts can only be legally authorized under a federal permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers.”
The Section 404 permit also requires the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to issue a Section 401 water quality certification.
The city first contracted with JR Wauford and Company in 2019 to perform an environmental assessment necessary to apply for the permit and certification.
Since then, Young said multiple crews have been at the site off City Lake Rd measuring streams, surveying wetlands and cataloging wildlife, historic structures and possible archaeological sites.
“There are 47 streams that feed Meadow Park Lake,” Young said.
It’s a big project, he said.
“This is one of the biggest environmental impact projects that has happened in Tennessee in decades,” Young said.
To make the project more manageable, it was divided into two phases: an overview and a final inventory. Phase one is winding down, with proposals for phase two expected to be submitted to the city in the coming months.
The first phase did not find any significant archaeological site. He found an active American bald eagle nest, which the city can receive a permit to move. A bat survey is still required.
The dam is a historic structure first built in 1939.
Flows were cataloged and measured. This data is used to calculate functional feet credits for flow attenuation. Then the wetlands should be measured and the area calculated.
In March, regulators were brought to the site to view the project area and review reports and data from the first phase of the project.
Greg Davenport, President of JR Wauford and Company, said, “It’s been a great achievement to come to this… The fact [regulators] even lead us on this path is an admission that they think it is a project that has value for them.
And that’s the only logical solution for the community’s water supply, he said.
“We looked at other options,” Davenport said. These included another impoundment or the pumping of water from Lake Watts Bar to the plateau.
“They’re not backed by regulators or they just don’t make sense,” he said.
Stream and wetland mitigation will be important, Young told the council.
“We need a detailed plan to mitigate or provide some sort of action that offsets the impact created on waterways, wetlands, wildlife and any architectural or archaeological components of the site,” said Young. “This mitigation plan turns out to be the most important piece of what we’re trying to do.”
Current mitigation rules require 1 acre of lost wetland to be mitigated with 3 acres of restored wetlands. Flows are attenuated over a 1 to 1 functional foot length.
“Mitigation involves either the city going out and trying to find a property that was once a natural creek or a wetland,” Young said. West Tennessee has several areas that have been modified over the past century.
“It’s really easy. The corn or soybean field has pipes underneath so that when the water falls it runs off into a stream instead of seeping into the ground… We don’t have many of these on the Plateau or in Cumberland County.
Some companies offer watercourse or wetland mitigation credits, but the amount of wetlands and watercourses affected means that there probably won’t be enough credits available for the project. Young said the city may want to invest in mitigation credits as they become available.
“Building the dam will be the most expensive part of this, but a close second will pay for the mitigation,” Young said. “At the moment, we can’t even guess what that number will be.”
Young anticipates the second phase may be complete and applications will be submitted to regulators next spring. A decision could be made within the year. Then the dam has to be designed and it would take two to three years to build it.
“You’re probably looking at a decade of progress to get to this point. And you are looking for a lot of money. This will be a monumental project for Crossville and Cumberland County,” said Davenport. “We are going to need a lot of patience among probably several councils. There are going to be tough decisions to be made to spend money and move this project forward.
City Engineer Tim Begley noted that the city does not own all of the land that will be affected by the dam project. The city will have to purchase the property in the future.