When Cummins Falls Gets A Flood Warning System, So Will This Other Tennessee Natural Area | Nashville Public Radio

When Cummins Falls Gets A Flood Warning System, So Will This Other Tennessee Natural Area

Jul 3, 2019

A flood warning system that's supposed to be installed at Cummins Falls State Park will help improve safety at another outdoor scenic destination as well.

Window Cliffs State Natural Area will be monitored for rising floodwaters once the proposed system is in place, according to documents obtained by WPLN. The project will cost about $42,500 in total and be installed by a Utah-based company.

More: Investigation: Delays And Confusion Before Flood Death At Cummins Falls State Park

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation secured an emergency contract on June 11, according to state documents — two days after the death of a 2-year-old boy during a flash flood at Cummins Falls.

Window Cliffs in Putnam County, which opened to the public as a state natural area in April 2017, hasn't gotten the same kind of attention as Cummins Falls. But in some ways, they're similar: They're both picturesque areas in Middle Tennessee that are prone to flooding. At Window Cliffs, the culprit is Cane Creek, which crosses a hiking trail in the natural area several times.

Both sites experienced flash flooding in July 2017. At Cummins Falls, this led to the deaths of two women. At Window Cliffs, "no fatalities occurred, but several people required assistance to escape rising floodwaters," according to plans sent shortly afterward by a group of Tennessee Tech University professors.

The professors were told to include Window Cliffs State Natural Area in their proposal for a flood warning system, according to emails exchanged with the state.

But the system was never installed at either site, a failure that came to light after 2-year-old Steven Pierce died at Cummins Falls last month. Pierce's parents filed a claim last week with the Tennessee Division of Claims Administration requesting $900,000 in damages. Depending on the response, they could end up suing the state.

TDEC officials told lawmakers in mid-June that the flood warning system would be ready within 45 days — or, by early August — but they're unlikely to hit that deadline. The Utah-based company installing the equipment says their engineers will have to make two trips to Tennessee. On Tuesday, they gave WPLN a 60-day estimate.

Cummins Falls has closed access to the base of the waterfall until the warning system is in place.

What's In The System

According to documents obtained by WPLN, the flood warning system will include:

  • Four "water level warning sites," which would monitor water levels on streams that flow into Cummins Falls. They will be able to send data via radio signal. 
  • Another "water level warning site" located outside of Window Cliffs.
  • A base station at Cummins Falls' headquarters that would receive data from the sites.
  • Three rain gauges — two at Cummins Falls, one at Window Cliffs — to measure rainfall. Currently, the National Weather Service relies on radar to estimate how much rain has fallen, which is not as accurate.

The system is expected to cost $42,477 overall. The installation at Window Cliffs accounts for about $10,000 of the total.