Cavers work to save Lake Cumberland creatures


Most don't realize it, but the lowered water level of Lake Cumberland has affected an immense ecosystem below ground.
Those most familiar with this effect are cavers and environmentalists who spend their weekends crawling, climbing and sliding through the Sloans Valley Cave System in Pulaski County.
Several organisms, including bats, salamanders and fish and crayfish, live in the 26-mile-long cave system, which stays a constant 56 degrees throughout the year. These environmentalists are worried about the future of all the organisms living in the cave because the water levels will continually decrease for the next seven years, the length of the project to repair Wolf Creek Dam.
"Now that the Cumberlands is draining, it affects the whole ecosystem of the entire river," said Mary Zriny, an environmentalist who navigated through a part of the cave system yesterday. "So many things are dying."
Zriny joined with others to find some albino crayfish, 3-inch-long organisms that until recently lived in dense pools of water in the caves. The crayfish are getting stranded and dying as a result of the dried pools of water. Led by Robin Cooper, a University of Kentucky associate professor of biology, a group spent several hours gathering about 50 crayfish yesterday. The creatures will be kept in UK laboratories.
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers plan to keep the surface of the lake at 680 feet above sea level this year to lower the risk of a breach in the dam while repairs are made. The normal summer level is 723 feet above sea level. That means the surface of the lake will cover about 38,000 acres this summer instead of the usual 50,000.
"We just feel a personal responsibility," said Hilary Lambert of the Kentucky Water Alliance and a member of the Bluegrass Grotto, a local caving group. "Even though it's not something we have to do, a whole bunch of people are upset about it. These crayfish live to be 40 or 50 years old; they're people." (...)"
Full text: Kentucky.com

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