LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – Lake Junaluska has opened its dam to draw down the lake. The lake drawdown, which happens every few years, allows for removal of silt from the lake’s floor as well as repairs, maintenance and litter cleanup. The lake will be filled again by Easter.
Currently, there is no water going over the spillway in the dam; however, the gates under the dam will continue to allow water to flow below the dam. Richland Creek will continue to flow freely throughout the entire process.
The estimated time frame for the lake drawdown is weather-dependent and may be adjusted if it rains or snows. The lake is lowered slowly, in accordance with wildlife regulations, so that the animals that live in and around the lake can adjust accordingly to the smaller amount of water that will remain. Fish, ducks and other wildlife manage well in the shallow waters until the lake refills.
Barring rain in the forecast, the lake will shortly be dry near Highway U.S. 19. At that point, equipment will be brought in to scrape the lake bottom and collect the accumulated silt. Silt deposits come from runoff into the Richland Creek and Factory Branch stream watersheds, which feed into Lake Junaluska. The work conducted will follow U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit requirements.
“In the 2016 drawdown, more than 500 truckloads of silt were removed from the lake bottom,” said Jack Carlisle, director of Lake Junaluska Assembly Public Works. “Silt builds up over time from creeks flowing into the lake. The environmental health of the lake is dependent upon these interventions to provide it with an appropriate amount of depth and sustain the ecosystem that results from the lake's existence.”
The silt is emptied into a permitted site at the northwest portion of the Lake Junaluska Assembly property, according to Carlisle. Beyond silt removal, the lake drawdown offers a window of time in which other repairs and maintenance can occur.
This year, slated work includes the replacement of the dock behind Harrell Center, which will provide a new home for Lake Junaluska's tour boat, Cherokee IV; the construction of a new meditation pier, which will be located at the end of the chapel parking lot, near the entrance to the Francis Asbury Trail; and inspection of the supporting structures of the bridge over the dam. In addition, the water and sewer pipes for both Lake Junaluska and the Town of Waynesville will be inspected, as well as other areas with issues that may be discovered as a result of the lake drawdown.
The drawdown also offers the chance to remove litter that has collected on the shores and bottom of the lake. Plans have been made for youth to assist in the cleanup process as they gather for events at the lake in the near future, and a community beautification day is organized for March 10.
The Lake Junaluska walking path will remain open. There will be no boating on the lake until the lake is restored to full pool. For more information, contact Lake Junaluska Assembly Public Works at 828-452-5911.