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New safety regulations prompt Lynchburg leaders to evaluate city dam

Published On: Aug 06 2014 10:19:35 AM EDT
Updated On: Jul 10 2014 06:50:17 PM EDT

Under current guidelines, many of the structures that hold back the state's lakes and ponds are considered a safety hazard. Without significant upgrades, those waterways may have to be drained.

LYNCHBURG, Va. -

With its gentle waters flowing next to a busy highway, College Lake is considered an urban oasis.

It's the city's only public lake.

"It plays an important role in the cultural history of the city and Lynchburg College," said Laura Henry-Stone, an environmental sciences professor at Lynchburg College.

LC doesn't own the lake, but the campus sits on its banks.  Henry-Stone lives nearby and monitors ecological activity on the water.

"This lake has the opportunity to be a real resource for the community and for the environment," Henry-Stone said.

The lake was formed in 1934, when the Virginia Department of Transportation dammed up Blackwater Creek to build Lakeside Drive.

The dam is now considered outdated and needs to be upgraded to meet current safety regulations.  Engineers believe the spillway on the dam isn't strong enough to handle a large amount of rain.

Lynchburg's city government owns and operates the dam.  If the city doesn't make the necessary repairs, state officials may force the lake to be drained.

Lynchburg College President Kenneth Garren hopes that won't happen.

"I have some very nice pictures of students out paddling on the lake, fishing, and campfires on the lake that date back to the 1950's," Garren told WDBJ7 Thursday.  "There's a long tradition of people enjoying that college lake."

Surveyors and environmental scientists are gathering information about the lake, to help city leaders decide what to do with the dam.

If the lake is drained, Henry-Stone hopes the city will maintain the area as a wetland.

"There are clearly many people in the community who have a relationship with this lake and I think it's important for their voices to be heard as well, and I would advocate for having a much broader community conversation about the role of this lake culturally," Henry-Stone said.

City officials are still a long way from making any kind of decision about the dam's future.  They plan to work closely with Lynchburg College and the public to come up with the best solution.