Silt Fills In Area Lakes

Silt Fills In Area Lakes

As James Freeze sat in a rowboat behind an island of silt in Lake Accotink, admiring the blue herons, egrets and painted turtles that surrounded him, he couldn't believe he was in the middle of a congested area.

"It looks like you're 50 miles away from anything," said Freeze an employee at Lake Accotink Park.

But he wasn't. The lake is in the middle of Springfield, surrounded by houses, roads and development that are taking a toll on the wildlife sanctuary. As the waters of Accotink Creek reach the still water in Lake Accotink, the silt sinks to the bottom and piles up through the years. As the lake gets filled in, it's transformed into a marsh and eventually becomes solid land. Geologically, that's the way the stream cycle goes but not if the Fairfax County Park Authority can help it.

Several solutions to the silt battle have been examined over the years, including trucking it out, dumping it on railroad cars and hauling it out, or piping it away hydraulically.

Piping out the silt is still the preferred plan, but when the Park Authority received the initial bid in December 2003, it was 50 percent above estimates, according to Judy Pederson, Fairfax County Park Authority spokesperson.

"The decision was made to reject that bid," Pederson said.

The Park Authority made some affordable adjustments to the original plan as well.

"Our consultant has come up with an alternative method," said John Lehman, of FCPA's Planning Division.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) preferred the piping alternative but looked at the recreational value as well.

"The money to do the dredging was in the last park bond. The voters did approve it on the bond referendum," Bulova said. "The piping sounded great. The little industrial park was interested in the silt."

The voters approved $6.15 million in a bond referendum for the project, but that was short of the total price tag. In July, the park authority shifted unused money from a 1998 bond to Accotink to cover the cost, Pederson said.

Freeze was aware of this when his paddle kicked up a cloud of mud along the bottom, which was only a foot below the surface of the water. He acted as a savior the day before because of the shallow water.

"I had to save a paddle boat that was stuck," Freeze said.

LAKE ACCOTINK was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Camp Humphreys, which is now Fort Belvoir, in 1918, and then rebuilt in 1920. Siltation was a problem then, too, according to information posted at the Lake Accotink administrative office. The lake was 110 acres in area and 23 feet deep when it was first formed and is now 55 acres and 2 to 3 feet deep.

Betsy Chapman lives in a neighborhood that borders Accotink and sees the debris that flows in. She even notices some debris that could be a health hazard if it were to contaminate the waters

"I come here all the time," Chapman said. "It does fill up with a lot of crud."

This silting phenomenon is not limited to Accotink, though. Other community lakes are facing the same thing. In the Braddock District, Lake Barton and Lake Royal are also choking with silt.

"They're not on the list to be dredged in the near future," Bulova said.

THE DREDGING PROJECT at Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield will soon be underway, although it is not nearly as big as the Accotink project. It was dredged once in 1980, and facilities were put in place to make dredging easier the next time. Jim Pomeroy, park manager, standing next to a silt holding area at Hidden Pond, explained the silt dredging process. A forebay is a man-made basin designed to catch the silt created in rainstorms and hold it in an area that will be shoveled out and trucked to another area in the park.

"This pond actually did work," Pomeroy said. "It's silt that actually eroded from the streambeds in the park."

The Hidden Pond project will start on July 19, with trucks digging out the sediment in the forebay, dumping the silt in a briar patch elsewhere in the park and then cementing the forebay to improve it.

That project is priced at $121,000 and will take 60 days.

"Hidden Pond is actually a maintenance project," Lehman said.