A flood warning system at Cummins Falls State Park is moving forward, slowly, after a 2-year-old boy died in a flood this summer.
But after engineers visited the site, the system is expected to cost more than originally planned. Engineers working on the project tell the state the changes will improve the effectiveness of the long-awaited project.
This warning system — first proposed by Tennessee Tech University professors in 2017 — will measure water levels flowing into the park, as well as the amount of rainfall nearby. High levels will trigger alarms, which professors say could give rangers one to two hours of notice before heavy water flows into Cummins Falls. In the flash flood in June, rangers said they had a matter of minutes to evacuate park-goers.
The system will also monitor incoming water to a nearby natural area called Window Cliffs, which also experiences flash floods.
Josh Hanks with Intermountain Environmental Inc., the Utah-based company that's building the system, visited the Cookeville area in mid-July to look at the site. He discovered a few issues, according to a report submitted to state officials: For one, he recommended adding a handful of additional water gauges to the system, which he said would aid the models for when floods come.
And for another, he found that the topography of the region made it difficult to send alerts reliably via radio signal. "However, I found that Verizon cellular coverage was quite reliable at most locations," he wrote in the report.
In a new proposal that integrates cellular technology and additional gauges, the cost has risen by about 75 percent: from about $42,000 to nearly $75,000.
Last week marked two months since the most recent death at Cummins Falls. Shortly after, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told impatient lawmakers that the warning system would be complete by early August. A TDEC spokeswoman now says there's no timeline for when the project will be finished, according to the Herald-Citizen.
The base of Cummins Falls, a popular Middle Tennessee swimming hole, is still closed to the public.