Drought Turns Dismal on ICW

Low water levels in Virginia's Lake Drummond have suspended lock operations on the Dismal Swamp Canal. "At Sea" from our November 15, 2007, CW Reckonings


The closure of locks on the Dismal Swamp Canal has stranded some boats indefinitely and caused detours for others.

Due to the lack of rain over the past several months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Norfolk District suspended lock operations on the Dismal Swamp Canal in the area around Lake Drummond. The suspension became effective Oct. 30, and will remain in place until further notice.

For cruisers currently in or headed to that area, there's no telling when the lock will reopen. "We have no educated guess at this point when that will be," says Nancy Allen, public affairs specialist with the Corps' Norfolk District. "We have to wait until the level in the lake comes back up."

Just how low has the water level dropped?

"We have 20 inches of water to operate the locks," says Joel Scussel, project manager for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association. "And we're down 18 and a half inches." According to Scussel, this is the 16th time since 1977 the locks have closed due to low water levels in Lake Drummond.

The Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge feeds Lake Drummond and supplies water to the Dismal Swamp Canal through weirs located at Lake Drummond Reservation. According to Public Law 93-402, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Norfolk District coordinates with the Department of the Interior to make sure that operating the Dismal Swamp Canal causes no adverse affects to the refuge. "The health of the swamp takes precedent over navigation," says Scussel.

For boaters traveling along the Intracoastal Waterway, the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal will remain open and operating as normal, 24 hours a day. The Great Bridge lock in Chesapeake, Virginia, also remains open, and has seen an increase of boat traffic in the last week. "More than 140 boats passed through there the other day," says Scussel.

Allen suggests boaters check out the Norfolk District website (www.armyengineersnorfolk.com) for the most current information on conditions at the canal. Boaters may also call the District at (757) 201-7500, and press option 3 for information.