Fulfilling a Mission

  • September 18, 2012
  • Blog

W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir’s continuing role in flood control and recreation and its increasing importance as a source of water were emphasized during the project’s 50th anniversary celebration Saturday.

“No other single resource is as essential to our economy, our way of life and our quality of life as water,” said Kevin Heape, operations project manager of W. Kerr Scott Reservoir.

“Water grows our food, cools and lubricates our industrial and manufacturing processes and fights fires. Water washes and cleans, transports commodities and is the basis for just about everything we drink.”

Heape said that because of the importance of water, it is especially critical to balance the water needs of entire watersheds during periods of drought.

He emphasized the need to renew the nation’s infrastructure in the next century, particularly water-related infrastructure like dams, bridges and navigation locks.

Constructing and operating locks and dams and dredging waterways are among the most visible activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir 50 years ago.

“The folks who built this dam had a vision of greatness and a will to make it happen. We now need a vision of our own,” said Heape.

“Please get involved in the processes that govern your life. Let your voice be heard. Join one of our partnering groups,” he added, referring to the numerous nonprofit organizations that work with the Corps of Engineers at W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir.

Heape said these organizations have helped make many improvements possible at W. Kerr Scott Reservoir during a time of limited financial resources.

He mentioned the Friends of W. Kerr Scott Lake and three of its numerous projects, including the Environmental Education Center at the Visitor Assistance Center, the Forest Edge Amphitheater and a bathhouse at Berry Mountain Park.

Heape noted the 30-plus miles of trails built and maintained by the Brushy Mountain Cyclist on Corps’ property around the reservoir.

He said the Carolina Traditional Archers is helping install an archery course at Fort Hamby Park.

Heape mentioned government agency partners like the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Wilkes Sheriff’s Department and N.C. Highway Patrol.

He listed federally-funded improvements that were recently completed or are planned.

New playgrounds, basketball goals, horseshoe pits and volleyball courts were installed this year. In the coming year, an 18-hole disc golf course and a new loop trail off the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail will be built.

The American Recovery and Investment Act provided $3.5 million for improvement about three years ago, which was more than the reservoir’s entire 2012 budget. Among other things, new utilities were installed, campsites renovated, roads paved, a boathouse, bathhouse, three picnic shelters and two amphitheaters were built and a reservoir master plan was updated.

Stimulus funds also funded a study that found sediments have filled in about 8,000 of the reservoir’s total capacity of 153,000-acre feet of water. The reservoir has about 41,000-acre feet of water at its normal level of 1,030 feet above the level.

An acre foot of water, which is equal to about 326,000 gallons of water, is the amount covering an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot.

Col. Donald E. Jackson, commander of the eight-state South Atlantic Division of the Corps since July, reviewed damage caused by the 1916 and 1940 floods in Wilkes and other counties in the upper Yadkin River watershed.

Despite all of this destruction, said Jackson, construction on the Wilkesboro Dam (later named for W. Kerr Scott, governor and U.S. senator) didn’t start until September 1960.

Jackson said the dam has prevented an estimated $203 million in flood damage since its completion in August 1962.

The dam’s biggest flood control test came when heavy rain caused the reservoir level to rise 31 feet above normal to 1,061.2 feet above sea level on Nov. 7, 1977.

The reservoir’s water level reached a record minimum of 1,019.85 feet above sea level on Nov. 26, 1978. It dropped to about 1,020 feet in both 1980 and 1981.

A concrete wall (or weir) runs across the width of the spillway to spread the release of water evenly and more slowly if the spillway is utilized. This weir is designed to contain water up to an elevation of 1,075 feet above sea level, said Kenneth Austin, former assistant operations project manager at the reservoir.

Beyond that, water would flow over the weir and thereby release pressure on the dam, said Austin.

Austin was among several former Corps employees at W. Kerr Scott Reservoir who attended the event Saturday. About 250 people were there.

Col. Steven Baker, commander of the Wilmington District of the Corps, recognized the foresight of leaders in the 1950s and 1960s who pushed for projects like W. Kerr Scott Dam to help transform the agrarian South to a more diverse and advanced economy.

Instead of sitting back and accepting the status quo now, said Baker, “we must seek out new technologies and ignite the spark of ingenuity that made a futuristic dam of the 1940s and 1950s a reality still in use today.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx of Boone, who represents the 5th Congressional District, said the reservoir is one of the most important facilities in the 5th Congressional District.

In particular, she commented on the reservoir’s role as a source of water. Mrs. Foxx said no one appreciates water more than her because she grew up having to carry water.

“Having the dam do its work in that respect is so important. Most people aren’t going to appreciate the value of our water system in this country until they don’t have it. When we’re out of electricity occasionally you don’t have it,” she added.

Mrs. Foxx elaborated on one of Baker’ comments. “He said, ‘the dam has been quietly and faithfully fulfilling its mission.’ I think that not only describes the dam, but it describes the people of this region.”

She said organizations involved with the anniversary celebration, including the West Wilkes High School Band, Boy Scouts and churches, are examples of the backbone of the community. Mrs. Foxx said this includes Corps of Engineers employees and others there as well.

“These are the people who quietly and faithfully go around fulfilling their missions, not drawing attention to themselves but doing what they know are the tasks God has given them to do,” said Mrs. Foxx.

She said the Environmental Education Center in the W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir Visitor Assistance Center was impressive. Mike Kennedy, president of the Friends of W. Kerr Scott Lake, said the Environmental Education Center was the centerpiece of the Friends’ volunteer efforts.


Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012 1:48 pm | Updated: 10:42 am, Tue Sep 18, 2012. | Jule Hubbard |