Jacksonville Daily News May 30, 2007


Suffering lake gets a chance



Elizabeth Lake may have a future yet, one that could change its appearance and the course of a major stormwater runoff channel as well.

At a Jacksonville City Council meeting this month, an environmental engineer presented his view of what it would take to revive the drained lake.

Larry Hobbs, an independent contractor from Raleigh who has been studying the effects of the lake after its dam was condemned by the state in 2006, was hired by the city to conduct an assessment of the Elizabeth Lake watershed and that of its larger neighbor, Mill Creek.

Upon analysis, Hobbs discovered the largest impact taking place along Doty's Branch, the tributary flowing from Western Boulevard to the lake basin.

Currently, Hobbs said, water drains via this stream from as far as the other side of Western Boulevard, its volume increasing with development and, in turn, affecting the watersheds' capacity.

"The watershed is actually larger than what originally had been there," Hobbs said. "In its natural state, these soils were capable of handling hydric situations. Any runoff we see that is impacting Elizabeth Lake is going to be coming from parking lots (and) buildings draining into the system."

According to the state's dam safety program, a new dam cannot be rebuilt along with Dewitt Street. Instead, two 66-inch reinforced concrete pipes will be placed underneath the road. The pipes' elevation will lower the current lake levels, leaving a stream channel and the old lake bottom, according to Hobbs' report.

Step pools will also be installed to facilitate the elevation change and reduce the amount of sediment.

Any attempts to restore the lake's habitat cannot be done without replacing the lake, Hobbs said, but with state law prohibiting a dam there, a middle ground must be met. Hobbs recommended a stream and wetland restoration technique with improved vegetation along Doty's Branch.

One way water can be contained within the footprint of the lake is to create what Hobbs referred to as a cypress gum swamp. Redirecting Doty's Branch from its current straightforward flow into a more serpentine course is also an option, Hobbs said.

"I know most people are very put off by the term swamp," Hobbs said. "I don't mean something that's going to be standing all the time in five or six foot of water. This will give you a more diverse habitat."

Best management practices such as installing log weirs, or barriers, and root wads to prevent channel erosion should be incorporated into the plan, as well, he said.

"These are devices or practices which will offset stormwater input," Hobbs said. "The best thing to do is design a project that will blend in the original Doty's Branch habitat but also the lost lake habitats."

Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Bittner asked if Elizabeth Lake would be dry forever, but Hobbs said a running stream would still feed into the lake. Mayor Jan Slagle wondered if the alligator weed and other unwanted overgrowth would be removed. Hobbs said yes.

"In other words, it's going to be more environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing than it is now," Bittner said.

Federal and state funding opportunities are available for both wetlands restoration and dam replacement projects, Hobbs said. The latter, however, requires state approval and is slow coming and expensive, Hobb said.

Because the lake and land surrounding the basin are private, City Manager Kristoff Bauer said Hobbs' study is as far as the city will go; it is primarily up to local residents to decide what they want to do for the lake.

If the property owners opt for a wetlands restoration project, however, the city may want to come along behind them and install some best management practices of their own to further protect the area, Bauer said.

"The big issue here, of course, is that we get a private property owner who owns this, they have to make decisions," Bauer said. "A lot of those paths are going to be chosen by the property owners and not by the city."

Lake basin owner Lisa Lutz-Keys said she has partnered with the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program to begin a restoration project and hopes it will sustain not only the wildlife living there but also the lake and watershed's purpose. Retention ponds may be another option, but one that takes more cooperation from the city.

"Water definitely needs to be kept in there because of its purpose," Lutz-Keys said. "The whole area serves to filter stormwater coming in before going into New River. Without water, there is no shoreline stabilization and it will erode straight out into the river."


Contact Kelley Chambers at kchambers@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 8462.