05/17/12 — Dam repairs delay swimming at Cliffs

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Dam repairs delay swimming at Cliffs

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 17, 2012 1:46 PM

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Cliffs of the Neuse State Park Superintendent Ed Wilkerson points to the low level of the swimming lake at the park. The lake is at an especially low level this year because the state had to drain some water to do repairs to the dam. Wilkerson is hopeful that the lake will be at an appropriate level to allow swimming this summer.

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Swimmers at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park won't notice anything different at the lake this summer, but had it not been for a $375,000 repair to the dam, there would not have been a lake to swim in.

The repairs began this past winter, Park Superintendent Ed Wilkerson said.

"The dam repair had to be done," he said. "Going back to Floyd and other hurricanes we had in the late '90s, it started a trend where we were overloading the lake and the spillway, and the drain was working all the time. Over time, there was a lot of pressure placed on the backside of the dam and that's really where dam failure occurs."

In essence, a leak had formed in the drain putting pressure on the dam itself.

"At some point, the park had to address the issue because it wasn't going to fix itself," Wilkerson said.

A local contractor dug the old drain out, installed a new drain system and is now in the process of filling in around it with dirt.

Before repairing the leaky drain, the lake had to be drained from its normal 20-foot depth down to 12 feet deep. That's so the contractor could get to the foot of the drain.

After installing a new drain, the contractor has put grout -- a flowable sealed concrete -- around the drain pipe so there would be a solid structure around it, preventing leaks in the future.

And although park officials are hoping to open the beach the weekend of June 2, that could possibly be pushed back a week or two.

"The unknown is that the grout application has to go well to finish on time," Wilkerson said. "They're shooting for Memorial Day weekend to finish.

"The second factor in all this that we have no control over and people will have to understand, is that we're dependent on Mother Nature. This lake has about an inch-and-a-half rise per day, even when we haven't had rain. That's because of the springs."

The lake level is currently six feet below normal. It refills in two ways -- through rain and through the natural springs that feed into it.

Because of the springs, the lake is fairly acidic, Wilkerson said. And that keeps out a lot of the things that pollute a lake.

But Mother Nature has been good to the lake the past several days.

"But one of the contingency we may use if we have to is using high-volume lift pumps to bring some water up from the river into the swim lake," Wilkerson said. "That won't affect the quality of the water for swimming."

Having to partially drain the lake also gave the park rangers the chance to look for glass, metallic debris and other harmful items on the bottom of the lake.

"We found nothing that would pose a hazard to swimmers' feet," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said that the 11-acre swim lake is a key component of Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

"Most of the parks don't have a nice swim lake like this," he said. "This lake is really unique in that it's spring-fed. It's not at all like a pond. This water never stagnates."