Improvements coming to Lake Tomahawk

Fred McCormick

The removal of 5,000 cubic yards of muck from Lake Tomahawk will alter the landscape of one of Black Mountain’s most popular attractions this winter.

The process, meant to improve the appearance and water quality of the lake, will involve draining it completely and leaving it empty for as long as three months. Work begins in December, at a cost of $150,000.

The town began setting aside the money in 2013, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer. The final product, he said, will be “well worth it.”

“The way that this project works is that you have $30,000 for the professional services (like) engineering and permitting,” Settlemyer said during the September board of aldermen meeting. “And you have $120,000 in the capital portion of the project.”

Town officials will receive bids in the coming weeks. Dredging is expected to begin at least a month after the lake is drained. Water will remain in the lake for the Circle of Lights on the first weekend in December.

“The purpose of draining it and letting it sit for a month is to allow the sediment to drain,” said Jamey Matthews, Black Mountain’s public services director. “The weather is also a factor in that too. If we get a lot of rainfall, then that could mean that the sediment has to sit longer to drain properly.”

Once properly dried, the sediment will be pushed into rows that will dry before being removed. Matthews said the entire process will need to be finished by the beginning of March when the golf course begins irrigation.

Silt in the lake leads to lower water levels in an already shallow body of water, Matthews said. That in turn results in increased water temperature. Shallow, warm water is “a breeding ground for bacteria,” he said. “It creates a water quality issue.”

Matthew’s department has slowed the accumulation of sediment in recent years by removing it quarterly at the mouth of the creek that feeds the lake on the north side. Each three-month period, depending on rainfall, crews can remove between five to 21 truckloads of muck.

Crews will install a subsurface aeration system on the north end to keep the water moving and the sediment from settling on the bottom. “Which in turn creates better water quality too. It will make the lake a lot clearer and less murky,” Matthews said.

Improvements to Lake Tomahawk’s water quality will help address an even larger issue - the quality of the Swannanoa River, which is considered an impaired river. Settlemyer said the town is creating a watershed management plan for the tributaries that feed into the Swannanoa. Lake Tomahawk, and the sediment that has been collecting on its north side, is the most logical starting point for addressing water quality issues locally, he said.

Frequent visitors to the lake, like Kassie Morton and Caroline Jernigan, support any efforts by the town to improve the overall health of the body of water. The two mothers frequently bring their children to the playground on the lake’s east side.

“The benefits of (dredging) it sound wonderful,” Morton said. “I would prefer something like that; that is better for the environment and the wildlife.”

Jernigan said an empty lake will not keep her from bringing her children to the park when weather permits. “I think the only change will be for people that are just visiting the area, because the lake may not look as nice while it doesn’t have water in it,” she said. “But I think for the local residents who come here regularly; we will continue to use it.”