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Evacuation lifted at College Lake dam, families to return home

Dam could take 6 to 8 weeks to stabalize

5 p.m. Update

A Red Cross rep in Lynchburg said they are officially closed. They are no longer taking in people. The city and Liberty University is helping with emergency housing if needed. 

1:15 p.m. Update

As of 12:45 p.m. Saturday, the evacuation order has been lifted. Residents still at the evacuation center and other locations may return home. 

According to Lynchburg officials, Wiley|Wilson continues to have rotating shifts monitoring the dam and spillway. The sluice was opened at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning in order to dewater the lake.

"During future rain events, water may accumulate, however, the sluice will remain open and water will continue to run through the emergency spillway. Blackwater Creek will form a channel through the lakebed area," city officials released in a statement.

The public is strongly advised to not walk on the lake bed due to unstable sediment.  In addition, the public is asked to please heed all emergency tape and barriers, and to not access the stream area near the dam or to climb on rock walls located near the dam.

Lakeside Drive will remain closed until further notice.  Lynchburg City officials said they will work to stabilize the dam and the roadway, which may take 6-8 weeks, depending on the length of the permitting process with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  The short-term plan is to stabilize Lakeside Drive in order to open both lanes of traffic.  Future decisions regarding the status of the dam and the bridge will be determined in the coming weeks.

Additionally, Creekside Trail is closed until further notice due to trail bridge failures.  
 

9:45 a.m. Update

According to Lynchburg officials, workers have opened the sluice at the College Lake dam and are beginning to lower the water level.

Jes Gearing, Public Information Officer with the Lynchburg Water Resources in Lynchburg said the release will be slow and crews will continue to analyze conditions during the detwatering process.

Another update is expected around 1 p.m. Saturday regarding repair plans and the evacuation.

 

5 p.m. Update

On Saturday, crews will open a small sluice on the spillway in order to begin dewatering the reservoir, according to the city of Lynchburg. Once the water levels are lowered, then initial repairs can begin on the dam embankment and the roadway.

Engineers completed their conditional assessment Friday morning and determined the structure is currently stable and that there is no immediate fear of dam failure.

Those who have been evacuated will not be able to return to their homes until further notice. Officials hope to have an estimate for when those who were evacuated can return home sometime Saturday.

The following streets remain closed until further notice:

  • Breckenbridge Street
  • Hill Street 
  • Lakeside Drive (from Old Forest Road - University of Lynchburg side to Moormans Road)
  • Old Forest Road (from Lakeside Drive to Halsey Street)

The emergency shelter established at E.C. Glass High School will remain open as long as necessary for residents displaced by flooding and from evacuated areas. Pets are being permitted in the emergency shelter. 

Liberty University is offering free temporary housing at its Odd Fellows Road Annex. Several rooms are available, which include beds and bathrooms. The Annex is located at 3436 Odd Fellows Road in Lynchburg. Those interested in staying there can contact LU Send Now at 434-592-6576 to make arrangements. 

Update after 3 p.m. news conference. Click here to watch the news conference on Facebook.

UPDATE

The College Lake Dam is now considered stable. An engineer did not find any seepage at the dam.

Water is being methodically released from College Lake to allow for less water pressure on the dam, according to the city of Lynchburg. Engineers are on site monitoring the process.

Officials part of the plan to alleviate pressure on the dam may include opening the sluice gate to reduce the water levels.

Opening the sluice will not empty the lake completely as it is only a 3x3’ culvert, but homeowners downstream may see slightly increased stream levels on Blackwater Creek.

PHOTOS: Severe flooding causes road closures, forces evacuations

Lynchburg Water Resources spokesperson Jes Gearing says that no significant flooding will result if this action is taken.

The evacuation order has not been lifted yet. 

ORIGINAL STORY

Crews are assessing the damage to the College Lake Dam in Lynchburg Friday morning. with more rain in the forecast. 

The flash flood warning for the area has been extended to 6 p.m. 

Lynchburg Water Resources spokesperson Jes Gearing says it's too early to order more evacuations, but there is concern that the dam will fail. If it fails completely, the water depth in Lynchburg could exceed 17 feet in 7 minutes.

CLICK HERE to enter your street address to see if you're in a potential flooding area, should the College Lake Dam fail. 

Crews know the dam is damaged but are working to figure out how bad it is. 

College Lake Dam flooding

City crews inspect the dam weekly because of its age. The Virginia Department of Transportation built it in 1934. The weekly inspections consist of a drive-by check for any obvious issues, and then an in-depth assessment by an engineer to look for erosion or cracks. 

The dam was inspected last week, and they didn't find any cause for concern. 

The dam doesn't meet current regulations and the city is making it a priority to find a solution. Right now, officials are analyzing the dam to figure out whether to keep it, make it larger, or replace it entirely. 

Gearing says they have never had a situation like this since the dam was built in 1934. 

People who live in the low-lying area of Blackwater Creek to the James River would be impacted most. There are 120 homes in that area, putting this situation in the high hazard category. 

Downtown Lynchburg would not be affected, Gearing says. 

Lynchburg Water Resources is working with the University of Lynchburg to deal with this situation. The city owns the dam, but the university owns the lake. 

A spokesperson for Governor Ralph Northam's office said they are monitoring the situation closely and may issue a declaration if it gets worse.