One year after flooding, planning underway to transform Lynchburg's College Lake

Published: Aug. 1, 2019 at 4:38 PM EDT
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Water flows peacefully through College Lake, attracting ducks and heron to feed on its banks.

Dr. Laura Henry-Stone remembers the area looking very different one year ago this week.

"The water level was just a few feet from the top of the dam," Henry-Stone recalled Thursday.

Heavy rain on August 2nd, 2018, caused water to rise above College Lake's dam. City leaders evacuated homes downstream, fearing the dam could fail.

"It was pretty dramatic that August evening," said Henry-Stone.

In the days that followed, city leaders drained College Lake as a safety precaution.

"I actually found it pretty fascinating to see what the lake bed looked like drained," said Henry-Stone, adding that the scene was also disturbing given that the rapid draining caused fish to die and sediment to wash downstream.

"It's not the way we wanted things to happen, but I was optimistic at the time that we would be able to move forward on a plan to make things better in the long run," said Henry-Stone.

Henry-Stone is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Lynchburg. She represents the school in a project with Lynchburg city leaders, to convert College Lake into a wetland.

The idea was being discussed before last year's flooding, but that event caused planning to be accelerated. Part of the process involves building a bridge to replace the current dam.

Construction of the new bridge is scheduled to be finished in about three years. Henry-Stone said the conversion of College Lake into a wetland will have to be carried out at the same time this current dam and bridge are removed.

"It will no longer be a lake, but the reality is that this lake has been disappearing for decades," Henry-Stone said.

Henry-Stone believes the future wetland will improve the overall health of Blackwater Creek, which runs through the lake, creating a safer and more environmentally-friendly waterway for Lynchburg to enjoy.