In late March, airboats were spotted atop City Park Lake, where surveyors were mapping out the lake’s depth and obstacles so that a more thorough construction plan can be developed for the lake’s eventual dredging that will take place later this year.
Originally a cypress swamp, the six lakes that surround LSU’s campus have degraded over the decades with sedimentation build-up, vegetation overgrowth, and a thick layer of ever-present algae floating atop the six lakes. The long-awaited University Lakes Project aims to completely revitalize the area by first dredging City Park Lake, Erie Lake, Campus Lake, and College Lake, thus deepening them by several feet. In doing this, the lakes will be able to retain more water, avoiding their otherwise eventual transformation into mudflats.
Students at LSU and nearby Baton Rouge residents have reported that the lakes’ current shallow state (averaging 3.5 feet in depth) has led to the excessive overgrowth of vegetation such as algae and duckweed, causing a drastic increase in fish deaths. Governor John Bel Edwards, along with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF), first announced the project to beautify the area, protect local wildlife, and prevent flooding back in 2019, but it suffered funding delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That being said, it’s incredibly promising to see surveyors out on the lakefront, officially starting Phase 1 of the project, which begins by conducting bathymetric surveys, stump identification surveys, geotechnical borings, and sediment sampling, and it will ultimately conclude with the late 2021 construction to deepen and reshape four of the lakes and install new paths and lighting around City Park Lake.
President of the LSU Foundation, Rob Stuart, remarked on the overall project by saying, “It’s important for the whole community. It’s important for LSU students and faculty but it’s important for the whole community. When you’re out on the lakes on the weekend or an evening walk, you see people from all facets of the community. People coming from everywhere, all walks of life enjoying what’s out there and it’s really a focal point for the city. It changes the quality of life for Baton Rouge, helps the quality of life for students and I think it makes it a real attraction for Baton Rouge and LSU.”
Over the past several months, four companies have been named to implement the total project. The Lafayette-based company, Fenstermaker, will study the depths of the lakes, specifically looking for obstructive tree stumps by using survey crews and innovative remote-sensing technology. In April 2021, the Baton Rouge company, GeoEngineers will conduct soil samples, handing off their findings to Stantec, a Canadian company, and Sasaki, a Massachusetts-based firm. Each company will then use the soil samplings to plan for improving the water quality of the lakes, increasing their capacity to prevent flooding, and establishing the overall dredging plan.
As the project is extensive and is expected to be rolled out in several separate stages, leaders at both the state and local levels have amassed nearly $50 million in funding. This amount is in addition to Phase 1’s $15 million that has been allocated by East Baton Rouge Parish, The Recreation and Park Commission for EBR, or BREC, and the Louisiana Office of Community Development.
BREC expects the ground-breaking construction to begin no later than early winter 2021 with the lakes’ deepening and walking paths being completed by the first part of 2022. Governor Edwards remarked on the future of the project in saying, “when the project is complete, this will be a special place that I think all Louisianans will be able to be proud of.”
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