Lake Olmstead dredging project could begin next year

The back portion of Lake Olmstead, near the old stockade building, is clogged with plant growth. A project that could begin early next year will involve dredging and removal of accumulated sediment.

A long-awaited makeover for Augusta’s historic Lake Olmstead is awaiting final environmental permits and could begin early next year.

The main part of the project will involve dredging and removal of about 130,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment, said Hameed Malik, the city’s assistant engineering director.

“There will also be things done to restore the lake and enhance the recreational aspect of it, too,” he said.

Lake Olmstead, created in 1870 during a project to enlarge the nearby Augusta Canal, is near the end of Rae’s Creek, which winds through densely developed west Augusta.

Stormwater runoff has filled the lake with silt, litter and aquatic weeds, according to a study conducted in 2008, when the pending project was first planned.

“These problems have combined and converged on the lower-most water body in the Raes Creek watershed, Lake Olmstead,” the study said. “As a result, sediment-laden runoff from the area upstream of the lake has continued to fill in the upper portion of the lake above Washington Road, and is proceeding to silt in the remaining part of the lake as time progresses.”

Solving the problem, however, will require more than simply dredging the silt, Malik said.

As part of a broader approach to improve stormwater management and reduce flooding and erosion throughout the Rae’s Creek basin, officials are planning similar cleanups at other lakes, including Hiers Pond, Lake Aumond and Warren Lake – which adjoins the canal off River Watch Parkway.

Permits for the projects remain under negotiation with the Army Corps of Engineers, which has also been asked to authorize future “maintenance dredging” to keep the lake clean.

“If that is approved, then we can go back every few years, based on our monitoring, to see if more sediment is filling it up again,” Malik said.

Lake Olmstead was last dredged in 1993 – a few years after a catastrophic 1990 flood dumped 15.5 inches of rain in 24 hours. About 57,000 cubic yards of sediment was pumped to a site 8,500 feet away, along River Watch Parkway.

The new round of dredging will involve hydraulic dredges, which will suck water and silt from the bottom of the lake and pump the mixture to a proposed site near where the 1993 material was taken. Using that equipment will avoid having to drain the lake, which would affect the nearby canal, from which Augusta gets most of its drinking water.

Residents and property owners along the lake are looking forward to the improvements, which will include removal of fallen trees, debris and trash along the shoreline, said Cary Rivers, the president of the Lakemont Homeowners Association.

“They’re telling us it will be quite a production,” he said, adding that the peripheral beautification plans include painting the Broad Street and Lakemont Loop bridges.

Thirty-four homes front the lake, with another 10 on nearby Lakemont Loop, he said.

The opposite shore is a city park, which includes Julian Smith Casino and related amenities.

History, debris flow along Rae's Creek
Lake Olmstead residents excited about dredging
Lake Olmstead residents urge city to dredge
HISTORY OF LAKE OLMSTEAD

• The lake is the legacy of an 1870 project to enlarge nearby Augusta Canal, which in 1845 was routed over Rae’s Creek with an ornate aqueduct.

• The expansion, which cost $371,000, was engineered by Charles Olmstead, who worked on the Erie Canal linking Buffalo, N.Y., and Lake Erie with the Hudson River.

• After Olmstead transformed the aqueduct into a new dam, the resulting 113-acre lake was named for him sometime after 1872.

• The area was also known as Lake View Park and was first purchased by the city for $9,150.

• In 1924, an amusement park owned by the Augusta-Aiken Railway was donated to Augusta, which acquired 15 more acres to house the attraction.

• Pre-1900 accounts include references to two large islands in Lake Olmstead, but both are absent today.

• A common misconception is that the lake is named for Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of New York City’s Central Park.

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