LAKE JUNALUSKA, NC—Forget ice fishing at Lake Junaluska this winter. Starting in January, phase two of a silt removal and hydropower exploration project will begin, meaning water levels will drop to an unprecedented low.
“Normally we have a permit to drop it 10 to 12 feet, but this year we’ll take the lake lower than usual so we can examine the powerhouse gates in an effort to explore hydropower,” said Buddy Young, director of Assembly Public Works at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.
The drawdown will begin when the dam operator opens the gates at the bottom of the dam, Young said. But it’s a slow, controlled process—about two weeks—for safety and environmental reasons.
“We don’t want to scour Richland Creek or have a fish kill by letting too much water out at one time,” he said.
Once the water level is low enough, excavation will begin to remove more than 25,000 cubic yards of silt, Young said. The excavation will take place at the mouth of the lake – the south end – which is fed by Richland Creek, its main tributary. The silt will be disposed of at a 10-acre dump site on Lake Junaluska property, which was constructed this summer. The cost of this year’s removal including construction of the disposal site is about $225,000, paid for with grants.
Young estimates that about 5,000 cubic yards of silt gather in the lake each year. For comparison, a dump truck can carry about 10 cubic yards of silt, Young noted.
So why remove it? “Mountain streams have a lot of erosion even in the best of circumstances, without development or anything,” Young said. “So as soon as that fast moving Richland Creek hits the lake, all the sediment falls out into the lake where the creek enters and builds up sandbars. If allowed to remain, it will eventually fill up the lake and turn it into a mudhole.”
More than 300,000 cubic yards of sediment have been removed since 2002. The project is expected to take several months.
Lake Junaluska Faces (and a little Folklore)
- More than 300,000 cubic yards of silt have been removed from Lake Junaluska since 2002.
- The lake was built in 1912 for recreational and hydropower use.
- The lake originally was about 250 acres, extendign to Granny's Chicken Palace, but certain areas have been filled in for building sites and parking. The lake is now about 200 acres.
- According to local legend, one of the first recipients of the lake's hydropower electricity was a local farmer, which sat near Assembly property in the mid 1910's. The homeowner was charged 25 cents per month for one light and one switch. However, the homeowner found the electricity to be a nuisance and asked for it to be removed, allegedly stating that the idea of electricity would never catchon.
- The lake is home to various wildlife including otters, amphibians, fish, birds, geese, ducks and the occasional bald eagle and beaver.
- The lake is home to a 4.3-mile walking path.