LYNCHBURG, Va. – On Thursday, leaders in Lynchburg hosted a virtual town hall for the removal of College Lake Dam.
The aging dam is a hazard, and just this week with another heavy rain, all eyes were on it. Lynchburg leaders say the reminders of why they need to act are obvious in situations like this. It’s been a hazard for 20 years and the storm back in 2018 forced their hand.
“That’s the night that we had a significant rainstorm come through our community and dump a significant amount of rain in the college lake watershed, that’s where we saw college lake overtop and come very close to failure," Lynchburg water quality manager Erin Hawkins said.
The plan is to slowly drain the lake, constructing new wetlands and restoring previous ones in its place. The main channel of the Blackwater Creek will meander through them before eventually continuing downstream. A significant amount of sediment will be removed using specialized equipment, and extra care is being shown to the ecosystem as a whole.
Brandon Alderman is a stream restoration specialist with AECOM, one of the contractors on the project.
“So we’re going to give plenty of time for any species in the area that may not be favorable within that rivering system time to relocate," Alderman said.
The removal is a massive undertaking in partnership with the University of Lynchburg. University President Alison Morrison-Shetlar said despite the shared cost, it’s a win-win.
“It’s a wonderful example of the city and the university as good neighbors and partners. And so one day soon this will be a place where students of all ages and our friends in the community can study urban wetland ecology and enjoy time in nature," Morrison-Shetlar said.
The project is set for completion in 2023 after the new bridge is built and the dam is removed. With trails and other amenities possible in the future, Hawkins said the dam holding up back in 2018 gave them the opportunity to do this project right.
“It will allow us to build a more sustainable system through this area that carries the drainage area that actually comes into College Lake," Hawkins said.
The city also will work with FEMA to update the 100-year flood map. This could change insurance requirements for people who live downstream.