Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
With Hurricane Dorian on the horizon and vital repairs that needed to be made, those responsible for the Silver Lake dam opted to open the gates and drain the water last week.
“We were having an issue with water running out from under the restaurant,” said A.B. Whitley, the engineer who designed the dam. “It was leaking, but not leaking so bad that the farmers who put money into the dam couldn’t still irrigate, so we waited until the irrigation season was over. Since that is over, we are now going to repair the holes that we’ve found.”
The original dam failed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, but a group of farmers got together to rebuild the dam. Since it was completed a year ago, Whitley said the gates have been opened three times.
“Everything is related to the old dam under there. Not the one we built, but the structural part that was poured in cement in the 1850s has caused the issues. We had water going under the cement part, so we had to let the water out, dig down, pump 28 yards of concrete to fill where it had washed out underneath. When we started to let it fill up, we had a leak under the mill.”
The old dam had seven gates, including two that were under the Silver Lake restaurant.
“It was buried under mud, but we dug it out. It is a double-wide gate area that the timbers had rotted on, and the water was starting to go back through there,” Whitley said. “We put aluminum coverings over those gates and closed them off. This should be the final fix.”
Whitley said he recommended waiting to stock the lake with fish until after all the vegetation died and fell to the bottom.
“We didn’t stock it. The fish that were in the lake came from upstream,” said farmer Zacky Bissette. “They came in voluntarily from Green Pond or wherever.”
When the water level was dropped to deal with the leak, the fish that had migrated to Silver Lake ended up dying, leaving a bevy of rotting fish near the shuttered restaurant. Whitley said that the work should be complete, and the gates can be closed by Tuesday to allow the lake to refill.
“We knew it would take time to find and fix all the issues on the old dam, so we’re working as hard as we can to fix everything and make it a pretty lake again,” Bissette said.
Once some of the vegetation dies off, he said the farmers plan to restock the lake.
“We will monitor it. When the dam is repaired and we’re comfortable everything is fine, we’ll restock it,” he said. “I think it will probably be a year until we do that, but you can see how many fish come in voluntarily.”
Whitley estimated about 80% of the fish that had found their way into the lake died when the gates were opened, but other wildlife will feast on the fish as a part of the natural cycle of life.
“Every time we get a hurricane coming, we’re going to open it up and drop the water level so we don’t have flooding downstream,” he said. “We have business owners who used to get water up to their buildings, but since we put the dam in and started lowering the water before big rains come, they have reported the water hasn’t hardly come out of the banks, and they are tickled to death with how we manage it.”