Homeowners on Lower Rockyford Lake in Forest Acres area are excited that work is starting to rebuild a dam that broke and emptied their lake during record rain in October 2015.
“Our wait is over,” Bettianne Davenport said Monday as she went to her backyard to watch repairs on the earthen dam that has sat under Eastshore Road. “I’m so relieved.”
If the $1.5 million project proceeds according to plan, water in the 21-acre lake could be back to its long-time level as soon as fall. And residents will be able to drive atop the dam once again, no longer cut off from their neighbors and having to drive longer distances to get in and out of the neighborhood.
The dam is the first one in the Gills Creek watershed being rebuilt totally after ruptures that contributed to a predawn storm surge flooded scores of homes. After the dams burst or were topped, two people were killed downstream by rising waters and homes’ first floors were inundated.
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“It’s been a long haul,” homeowner association president David Jacobs said.
In separate referendums, the 18 homeowners around Lower Rockyford and other residents on the nearby Upper Rockyford and Cary lakes agreed last summer to tax themselves extra to replace the privately owned dams damaged by the flood.
Those on Beaver Lake in Northeast Richland County did so later. A fifth set of property owners around Lake Dogwood in the Hopkins area of Lower Richland will decide in June whether to tax themselves to fix their dam.
All new dams must meet state standards more stringent than when each was built, some more than a century ago and some, in the past 60 years. Improvements at several other dams have been made periodically, state records say.
A new design for the Lower Rockyford dam includes a 93-foot-wide concrete spillway to release water safely into other lakes downstream during torrential storms, a plan approved by state officials says.
The dam “was old and obviously not able to do the job,” said Davenport, whose backyard is surrounded by the empty lakebed on three sides. The dam was built in 1900, according to state records.
The restoration plan also calls for repairing one yard on Lakeshore Drive next to the dam that was severely eroded by the rupture, Jacobs said.
It’s time to celebrate after months of demanding preparation, said State Rep. Beth Bernstein, a Democrat who lives nearby. “There’s a lot of hard planning to do before you can break ground,” she said.
Meanwhile, repairs to strengthen other dams that didn’t break but need shoring up, such as the one at nearby Spring Lake, also are under way.
Residents who live on or near the lakes are happy that a refill is coming, with roads atop them again open to traffic.
The flood was “one of those surreal moments,” said Lynn Lemon, who walks a few times weekly with friends on streets around largely empty lakes.
Lengthy traffic detours through the area are common, with creeks through former lake beds full of high weeds or transformed into mud flats with tree stumps.
Lemon looks forward to a return to pre-flood conditions with an extra protection that the dam improvements will provide.
“It’ll connect me with a lot of friends again,” she said. “It feels like I live in another city.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483