The Future of College Lake

Grace Cavanaugh, Staff Writer~

New and returning students may notice that Lakeside Drive is closed down with detour signs offering alternative routes. What some do not know is that Lakeside Drive is actually part of the dam. On August 2, 2018, torrential rains caused the dam holding back College Lake to fail, and water broke through and crossover Lakeside Drive. Since then, the University of Lynchburg and city officials have been discussing options for College Lake, which has since been drained due to extensive damage to the dam. According to Dr. Thomas Shahady, professor of Environmental Science at the University of Lynchburg, “The dam is inadequate. Because there’s homes below it, [city officials] are concerned that if we have another big storm that it could breach the dam.”

The problem that concerns the lake is that the city of Lynchburg owns the dam, while the University owns the lake. Whatever decisions are being suggested must be agreed upon by both parties. It’s a delicate situation, but one that luckily has been seen before. College Lake is a man-made structure and when it was created, the city and the University had to talk. Concerning the future of College Lake, both parties have decided that to fix the dam and refill the lake would be far too expensive. According to the University’s official statement published on August 20, 2018, it would cost approximately $20 million dollars. It has been confirmed by the University’s statement that the lake will not be refilled and the dam will eventually be removed.

The draining of the lake doesn’t seem to have much effect on classes. Dr. Laura Henry-Stone, the assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Lynchburg,  mentioned that she and Shahady use to take their classes down to the lake for water-quality sampling, but hasn’t done so in a number of years. Dr. Henry-Stone says, “I actually think it’s fascinating to see the lakebed…from a geological perspective, how the creek channel is cutting through the sediment and how the wildlife is making use of the mud flat.” It would be interesting, and Dr. Shahady says he plans to bring Environmental Science 101 classes down to the lake to talk about it, but Dr. Henry-Stone also warns that the mud and bacteria are very dangerous and that “students should stay out of the lakebed and out of the creek downstream.”

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A portion of College Lake from the trail behind the tennis courts (Blackwater Creek Trail). On Saturday, August 26th. Photo taken by Grace Cavanaugh.

The University of Lynchburg has already released a statement concerning their plans for the lake. A wetlands laboratory seems to be the most popular option. It would be beneficial both to the environment and to professors. Shahady chimed in on the wetland lab idea, saying, “The University could benefit from that, and we would have improved water quality.” He says the dam has to go because it’s dangerous, which would leave the University with a large, open space of land. “[Students] should be vocal if they would like to see the laboratory because there’s not a guarantee that it will happen,” says Shahady. There are other proposals for what to do about College Lake. However, if the student body comes together to voice a preference, Shahady and Henry-Stone believe there is a good chance the school would listen.

However nice thinking long-term is, there are problems concerning the lake that must be dealt with sooner rather than later. Since the draining of the lake, sediment is still leaking through the crack in the dam. It’s harmful to the environment, but as of yet any solutions have been unsuccessful. “The water quality has been very, very poor,” says Shahady. College Lake and Blackwater Creek all are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, so ultimately the sediment is making its way into the James River, and thus into the Bay. “That’s probably the biggest issue right now, is to try to figure out how to stop it,” says Shahady. Henry-Stone commented, “Almost anything that needs oxygen in that creek down below the dam is suffering right now because of all that sediment.” They were unsure when the leak would be fixed, but as of August 19, seeds for wetlands plants were spread on the lakebed. When the plants do grow, it should stop any more sediment from spreading downstream.

According to the official statement from the University of Lynchburg, the city is hoping to reopen Lakeside Drive in two to three weeks.