After years of planning, the project slated to revitalize and dredge University Lakes for the first time in decades is underway.
With $50 million from state and local sources, Phase I of the University Lakes project is fully funded and has begun with contractors dredging and moving sediment to test what method works best for each of the lakes.
In recent years, algae buildup has created an unhealthy lake environment for fish and other animals while developing into an eyesore for residents and visitors.
“I don’t think you need me to tell you the lakes have lost their luster a little bit,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during an April press conference. “There’s a lot of work that needs to happen, and it’s going to benefit wildlife, make it more beautiful and attractive … and help us with our flood control issues here in Baton Rouge.”
Five of the six lakes — Campus, City Park, College, Crest and Erie — will be revitalized along with the construction of new walking paths, biking paths and lighting.
The project is also designed to better protect the area from floods, with the lakes to be able to hold more water from heavy rain.
University Lakes restoration project manager Mark Goodson said that Sevenson Environmental Services Inc., the company tasked with dredging the lake, is considering hydraulic and mechanical dredging techniques.
“They’re looking at dredging the lakes hydraulically, without draining them, by using a cutter head underwater that digs into and loosens the material at the bottom of the lake and then sucks it up to be placed somewhere else,” he said. “Mechanical dredging uses a heavy piece of equipment like a track hoe or a pontoon hoe to literally dig out the bottom of the lake and place that material directly where it needs to go.”
Goodson said the lakes are in need of dredging after decades since the last project.
“The lakes were dredged the last time in the ’80s through a Corps of Engineers project,” he said. “They weren’t able to dredge all of the lakes and they’ve done a couple of studies since then to look at the water quality of the lakes and what needs to be done to improve the health of the lakes.”
According to Goodson, the area where University Lakes sits used to be a cypress-tupelo swamp that was logged and dug out in the 1930s in order to build up LSU’s campus and the surrounding area.
Because the area is naturally a swamp, Goodson said, it is constantly attempting to revert to its original state by filling with silt, sediment, dirt and debris.
In the 1930s, the lakes were 15 feet deep with fishing holes as deep as 20 feet, compared to an average depth of 5 feet currently, according to the project website.
Goodson said organic materials leave forms of trash, fertilizers and vegetation that have filled the lakes and made them less habitable for wildlife.
“Now they’re much shallower, which means that sunlight can reach the bottom, vegetation can grow and they’re much warmer,” he said. “That produces a more friendly environment for things like algae to grow in the lakes and leads to lower oxygen levels, which makes it a less healthy place for fish and other wildlife.”
With the lakes as they are now, Goodson said, they would need to be dredged every 20 years or so.
As part of the restoration project, Goodson said, they hope to extend that 20-year timeline by using sediment traps called forebays to keep sediment from spreading across the lakes.
“The way that our team is approaching it is by being strategic about designing and ultimately constructing forebays, designed to catch the sediment that runs into the lakes before it can be spread throughout the lake system,” he said. “Those forebays will need to be cleaned out every 20 years or so, but they’ll protect the larger lake system from silting in and having to be dredged as often.”