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District Spotlight—R.D. Bailey Lake

Published April 28, 2017
RD Bailey Dam

RD Bailey Dam

This project was called the Justice Reservoir, during the planning stages. In 1965, Congress changed the name in honor of the late Judge R.D. Bailey, a lawyer, state senator, prosecuting attorney, and a leader in Wyoming County education. Judge Bailey also was circuit judge of Wyoming and Mingo counties during the bloody coal mine wars of the 1920's. The Guyandotte River has a history of significant flooding about every two years –causing death and property damage. Population centers (Justice, Gilbert, Man and especially Logan) were hard hit. Damages caused by the record 1963 flood totaled $8 million in the Logan area alone. All the rain that runs into the Guyandotte, upstream of the dam, flows into the lake (called 'inflow'). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the amount of water released from the lake ('outflow') by operating a set of gates in the 310 – foot-high 'control' tower. The lake catches runoff from a 540 square mile drainage area. When storing floodwater, the lake could rise a maximum of 120 feet above summer level. If that ever occurs, water would begin flowing through the 300 foot wide 'emergency spillway' cut through the mountain beside the dam. Under maximum storage conditions, the seven-mile lake would increase to 22 miles and would contain 66 billion gallons of water. The lake level is lowered in the fall and winter to allow for additional storage of floodwater. R.D. Bailey is a unit in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Ohio River basin flood control system. All dams work together to help reduce flood crests along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The 19,000-acre R.D. Bailey Lake project is located in the rugged Appalachian Mountains. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the project to reduce flood damage along the Guyandotte and Ohio Rivers. Authorized by Congress in the Federal Flood Control Act of 1962, the lake also provides downstream water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and many recreation opportunities. The dam is on the Guyandotte River near the southwestern West Virginia town of Justice. The lake is in Wyoming County. Work on the dam began in 1974; construction began in 1967 and was completed in 1980. The entire project cost of $180 million was spent on relocations, planning and engineering, purchase of real estate, and construction. Through the first eight years of its operation, the dam prevented $59 million worth of flood damages. In time, the dam's benefits will exceed its costs. Engineers call this type of structure a 'rockfill' dam. It is a carefully designed mound of closely compacted rock. A layer of steel-reinforced concrete was placed on the upstream face (on the lakeside) to reduce seepage through the rock. R.D. Bailey was the first concrete-faced dam built by the Corps of Engineers. Such a massive structure requires an enormous amount of materials and manpower. There are 5.7 million cubic yards of rock, 6.4 million pounds of steel, and 240,000 bags of cement in R.D. Bailey Dam. Restrooms are located at the Project Office, Guyandotte Point Boat Ramp and Marina, the Big Branch Day Use Area, and the Guyandotte Campground.


Things you should know about RD Bailey Lake

  • The intake structure is one of, if not the tallest free standing structure in West Virginia.
  • Many of the Huntington District's Resource Managers and Rangers began their careers at RD Bailey. Many often refer to the project as the District's "Boot Camp."
  • Visitors to RD Bailey Lake are treated to a unique structure when departing the Guyandotte Campground. It is the only actively used tunnel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inventory. The tunnel was originally on the line of the Norfolk and Western Railway, today known as the Norfolk Southern Railway and now is the exit route for the campground. It is only wide enough for one vehicle and a pedestrian walkway. As the staff says, "Come and see RDB, the best place to be!"
  • RD Bailey Dam sits astride the Guyandotte River. The river that empties into the Ohio River near Huntington, W.Va., home of the district headquarters.