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Canonsburg Lake Restoration

“Save Canonsburg Lake” project summary

For nearly two decades, the Canonsburg Lake Restoration & Improvement Committee (Committee) has been working on plans to clean up, restore, and preserve Canonsburg Lake. In this endeavor, the Committee has worked primarily with the PA Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) – under the auspices of the Chartiers Creek Watershed Association, the Washington County Watershed Alliance, and the Washington County Conservation District – and in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District (Corps), the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), and Peters and North Strabane townships.

The Committee developed a series of plans to solve the issues plaguing the lake, problems caused mainly by sediment buildup that would eventually cause the lake to return to its original form as Little Chartiers Creek. Through long-term volunteer efforts and diligent fundraising, the 8-member group recently was able to complete Phase I of its major lake restoration plan: stabilizing Canonsburg Dam, building access roads to facilitate the project, and constructing a weir to filter out sediment coming into the lake.

Phase II will involve dredging the lake to remove built-up sediment, algae, and debris—an undertaking that will require about $2 million to fund. The Committee is currently engaged in raising this amount through donations, grants, and fundraising activities.

In addition to restoring Canonsburg Lake, the Committee has been working on segments of a Master Site Development Plan (2007), which includes improvements to the area surrounding the lake.


Background on lake restoration project

How the lake was created – In 1943, Alcoa Corporation constructed a dam along Little Chartiers Creek to create an industrial water supply for the company. In 1958, Alcoa donated the lake and dam to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Since then, the lake and dam have been managed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC).

As time went by, the lake became a popular spot for fishing, boating, and wildlife watching, acquiring a standing with surrounding communities as a valued recreational resource and an environmental treasure. Several housing developments grew up around the shoreline, providing residents with scenic views of the lake and its environs.

Why the lake needs restoration – One morning back in 2002, when a lakeside resident gazed out her window, she saw something amazing – the geese were “walking” on the water! So much sediment, tree debris, and vegetation had built up on the bottom of her lake section that ducks and geese could actually walk on top of it.

Indeed, since its completion, the entire lake has been filling with sediment at the rate of approximately 0.1 feet per year. This has reduced the lake’s original 76 acres to about 63 acres, and its maximum depth from 42.6 feet to about 11.5 feet. In addition, the lake has been degraded by excessive sediment inflow, along with phosphorous-loading from agricultural fertilizers used in the watershed.

As a result, Canonsburg Lake’s degraded condition has made it less habitable by wildlife, less navigable for boaters, and less accommodating for fishers.



Citizen involvement – Unwilling to watch Canonsburg Lake continue to decline, the lakeside resident began making phone calls and visits to bring attention to the situation. In 2002, she and a small group of dedicated citizens formed the Canonsburg Lake Restoration & Improvement Committee (which includes some members of the Chartiers Creek Watershed Association). Since then, the committee has been working (1) to create awareness about, and find solutions for, the deterioration of the lake, (2) to raise funds for restoring the lake, and 3) to put the restoration plans into action.

(1) LAKE RESTORATION PLAN

Coordinating its efforts with the PA Fish and Boat Commission, the Committee engaged the US Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District (Corps) to formulate plans for restoring a portion of the degraded aquatic ecosystem of Canonsburg Lake, located along Little Chartiers Creek near Route 19 in Washington County. The goal was to return the lake, to the extent possible, to its former state of environmental health and navigability. These plans were incorporated into the document Plan to Restore Canonsburg Lake (September 2008).

To meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act for this project, the Corps prepared a Feasibility Study containing an Environmental Assessment (EA), and a draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that describes the restoration project and its associated impacts.

The Committee selected the engineering firm Michael Baker Jr Inc. to design and oversee the restoration work, with Chad Davis as the project engineer.



(2) MASTER SITE PLAN

To complement the lake restoration project, the Committee created a Master Site Development Plan, funded by the PA Department of Conservation and National Resources. This plan includes the construction and/or improvement of walking paths, parking, lighting, kiosks, landscaping, footbridges, and a future park.


Status of Restoration Projects

Today, work on the Canonsburg Lake Restoration project can be divided into roughly four segments:

  1. Canonsburg Dam Stabilization – To meet the safety requirements of the PA DEP, the dam needed to be anchored into the bedrock to keep it from sliding due to water and sediment pressure. This $2 million project, completed in 2012 by the Michael Baker Jr firm, was overseen by the PA Fish and Boat Commission with a PA state H2o grant. Since the DEP had listed the dam as a high-hazard structure, stabilizing it served as a precursor for the other lake restoration work.

  2. Lake Restoration Phase One (road / weir construction) – After acquiring the necessary state and federal work permits, and putting the work out to bid, the Committee chose a qualified construction firm to begin the actual restoration project. See Aerial Map.

    Weir – In Spring 2016, construction began on the weir, a porous underwater “dam” made of huge boulders and rocks that allows water to flow through, while filtering out sediment and debris. Now completed, the weir is installed in the upstream portion of the lake, preventing additional silt and tree debris from entering the lake, and creating an area where this material can be routinely removed.

    Access Roads – Prior to constructing the weir, the contractor built two roads. The first is on the North Strabane Township side of the lake, for mobilizing construction equipment, while the second is on the Peters Township side, to allow maintenance employees (the PFBC and townships) to remove accumulated debris on a regular basis.

  3. Lake Restoration Phase Two (dredging) – To complete the restoration, the Committee plans to have the lake dredged, to remove the layers of silt and debris that have been building up over the past decades. This will greatly increase the depth of the lake, making it more habitable for fish and more navigable for fishers and boaters.

  4. Master Site Plan – Several phases have already been completed on this plan to improve the area surrounding Canonsburg Lake:

    Trail improvements – In 2006, Junior Girl Scouts worked to improve a quarter-mile trail on the Peters Township side of the lake (below, left), a community project that included a perennial garden and memorial benches.

    In 2008, work to improve the Strabane side of the lake began with Eagle Scouts constructing a footbridge (below, right).



    Costs for the completed trail improvements and footbridge construction were funded by a grant from the Abernathy Fund of the Washington County Community Foundation.

    Informational kiosks – The Committee has constructed two kiosks to inform visitors of the attractions at the lake.

      Financial support for this project was provided by the Dominion Foundation (dedicated to the economic, physical, and social health of the communities served by Dominion companies), through a grant program administered by Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Major contributors to this installation included Betler Builder, Inc., who donated all the labor to fabricate and construct the kiosks, and Brookside Lumber & Supply Co., Inc. who provided a discount for all materials used.

About the Committee
The Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Committee operates under the auspices of the Chartiers Creek Watershed Association, a member of the Washington County Watershed Alliance.

The Committee meets regularly to generate public awareness, gain support, and investigate funding sources for its lake projects.


For more information