Water buried deep under Ohio State University will start flowing into Mirror Lake today as workers refill the scenic campus fixture for the first time since last year. Ohio State drained the lake in December to look for a new water source after finding that it took 50,000 gallons a day, bought from the city, to fill the leaky lake. A company hired by the school has since drilled a well nearby and found that underground water is a safe alternative.
Water buried deep under Ohio State University will start flowing into Mirror Lake today as workers refill the scenic campus fixture for the first time since last year.
Ohio State drained the lake in December to look for a new water source after finding that it took 50,000 gallons a day, bought from the city, to fill the leaky lake. A company hired by the school has since drilled a well nearby and found that underground water is a safe alternative.
“As of now, it looks like potentially this could be a safe and sustainable solution,” said Aparna Dial, the university’s energy and sustainability engineer.
The lake will fill slowly over the next week, replacing the dirt, litter and rainwater that have accumulated on the brick bottom of the lake in recent months.
But if it’s a welcome sight on campus, it also could bring an unpleasant odor at first. Much like the spring water that first fed the lake decades ago, the well water contains hydrogen sulfide gas, which typically smells like rotten eggs or sewer gas, officials said.
“My feeling is that it would just be a waft here and there. It will not be a stench,” Dial said.
Results from the water study reported that the well water has low levels of iron, which can cause red staining, and that the water is clear. That means the water probably won’t need special treatment.
If school officials decide to tap the groundwater as a permanent source of water, the university could save more than $40,000 a year in water costs. That’s how much Ohio State probably paid to keep the lake filled with water bought from the city. To plug the leaks that forced the purchases, the new study also recommends lining the lake bottom with bentonite, a natural clay sealant.
An electric pump would help feed water from the well to the lake, but university officials said they don’t know yet how much it would cost to keep that pump running.
Whether the lake will be filled during the traditional Mirror Lake jump –– a question that has caused anxiety among some students –– is unknown, Dial said. Workers will need to drain the lake again while its foundation is being sealed, and possibly as part as further testing.
Either way, the lake will be shallower than it was before. Dump trucks poured gravel into the lake earlier this year to give it a uniform depth of about 5 feet. It had ranged from 3 to 9 feet.
The lake, which has become a campus landmark, has taken several forms in its 150 years. It started as a bog fed by Neil Run. When it was expanded in 1895, workers added an island and lined the lake with stone. Decades later, the university installed an electric pump and a fountain.
While one company studied the water, another has been planning a visual makeover for the lake.
A design firm hired by Ohio State unveiled sketches of three concepts in May: One would add an island and bridge, restoring a bit of the past. Another would give the area a park atmosphere with grass closer to the water. An “urban” option would add wider concrete paths nearby.
Feedback from Ohio State workers and students didn’t point to a clear preference, Dial said, so OSU leaders will decide in November which aesthetic route to pursue.
But the university board of trustees won’t need to approve any plan to use groundwater as a long-term source of water, Dial said. Those working on the project have informed OSU leaders that the results of the sustainability study are pretty clear: The well works.
“I’m really, really excited,” Dial said, “and I hope students are too.”