Oct. 14–A decade ago, Rochester Dam was eroding, endangering the water supply to 46,500 people in seven western Kentucky counties.
And officials feared that the collapse of the dam on Green River near the point where Ohio, Muhlenberg and Butler counties intersect, could happen at any time.
In 2010, officials in those counties were excited that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was studying what needed to be done to save it.
Finally, this week, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie announced that a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to the Rochester Dam Regional Water Commission would be used to help renovate the soon-to-be 180-year-old dam.
“It’s still hanging in there,” David Johnston, Ohio County judge-executive, said Friday of the dam. “We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had a major weather event.”
But, he said, “The work isn’t going to start soon. We still have a couple of hurdles to go through. Getting the property deeded to us from the Corps of Engineers is the main one. We’ve been working on that for seven years. But Sen. McConnell’s office tells us that will happen soon.”
On Oct. 1, 2015, the Rochester Dam Regional Water Commission secured a 25-year management lease with the Corps of Engineers to preserve the dam.
The old dam, built in 1838 when steamboats plied the Green River, “is built of wood holding the rock in place,” Johnston said. “I guess wood doesn’t rot under water because it’s been there a long time.”
Plans call for adding another layer of boulders in front of the dam and driving pilings into the river bed to hold the boulders in place, he said.
McConnell’s office said the dam “provides a vital water supply serving nearly 50,000 residents in Ohio, Butler and Muhlenberg counties.”
If the dam fails, the water level will drop so low that the intake pipes for water systems including the Ohio County Water District would “be sucking air,” Johnston said.
Morgantown would lose its water supply and so would much of Ohio and Muhlenberg counties, he said.
And Perdue Farms, the county’s largest employer with more than 1,200 workers, would also be without water, Johnston said.
Guthrie said, “This investment is projected to save over 1,300 jobs and will leverage $54 million in private investment.”
The dam is officially known as Green River Lock Dam No. 3
It gained a measure of fame in John Prine’s 1971 song, “Paradise.”
“When I die let my ashes float down the Green River, let my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam,” he sang. “I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’, just five miles away from wherever I am.”
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, firstname.lastname@example.org