In the ongoing battle to keep Lake Junaluska from filling with silt, the lake will once again be partially lowered this winter so accumulated sediment can be dug out.
Scooping sediment out of the lake is a costly proposition. There have been four digs over the past decade, costing $1.7 million. Of that, $1.2 million came from state and federal grants, and Lake Junaluska Assembly contributed $500,000.
When the first “big dig” was undertaken at the beginning of the decade, so much sediment had accumulated it was a mere four to eight inches from the lake’s surface around the mouth of Richland Creek.
“At that point we were in danger of losing that whole west end of the lake,” said Jimmy Carr, executive director of Lake Junaluska.
Carr and his team first had to play catch-up before putting in place a plan to keep sediment at bay with smaller digs every other year.
“The problem will never be solved. What we are trying to do is get it so it is manageable,” said Buddy Young, director of residential services with Lake Junaluska Assembly.
To set the stage for periodic clean-outs, the lake bottom was reshaped near the mouth of Richland Creek to confine sediment being dumped into the lake into one area, making it easier for the bulldozer operators to get at.
This next round of sediment dredging will cost $300,000 — with half coming from the state and half from Lake Junaluska Assembly.
Lake Junaluska requested $350,000 for the dredging back in 2009, but it didn’t come through that year. Carr said the assembly is thankful Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, continued to fight for the appropriation.
“He really stayed with it in a very difficult budgeting time,” Carr said.
The economic impact of Lake Junaluska Assembly on the entire region helped win the funding.
“Lake Junaluska is a valuable asset to the Haywood Community and the entire region,” said Queen.
Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center attracts 100,000 people each year for dozens of conventions held on its grounds, with an annual economic impact in the millions plus intangible benefit of outside exposure.
The sediment piling up in Lake Junaluska is a countywide problem. One only has to look at the color of Richland Creek during a heavy rain to see the mud and erosion making its way into the water.
“When it hits the lake it slows and the silt settles out,” Carr said.
The lake can be unsightly while work is being done. Lower water levels expose a ring of mud around the shore in the main part of the lake, and a mudflat in shallower areas. The work usually raises eyebrows.
“I think a lot of the locals understand this is a regular thing, but for visitors to the area it is the No. 1 question we get during the draw down: is there something wrong with the lake and why are you doing this?” said Ken Howle, marketing director for Lake Junaluska Assembly.
Though there has been some discussion of sacrificing the lake at the mouth of Richland Creek and allowing it to become a wetland, Young said it would not be a good route to take.
“It is not like it would build up a good quality wetland. It would be a shifting sand bar,” Young said.
A couple of wetlands have been created in the shallow part of the lake, however, benefiting wildlife.