There's water bubbling out from places that it shouldn't along the earthen dam that holds back the 337 acres of Lake White at a popular state park in southern Ohio.
There’s water bubbling out from places that it shouldn’t along the earthen dam that holds back the 337 acres of Lake White at a popular state park in southern Ohio.
Engineers and inspectors are concerned enough that they set up a command center at Lake White State Park in Pike County and are monitoring the seepage around the clock. About 50 gallons per minute is leaking from a spot near the base of the dam next to its spillway. The leak was discovered during a routine check on Friday by Ohio Department of Natural Resources park officers.
Since then, officials have been slowly and strategically draining the lake to both relieve pressure on the dam and try to isolate the problem. The state is working with an engineering consulting firm to locate the cause. So far, it hasn’t been found, ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said yesterday.
The 79-year-old, nearly mile-long dam just southwest of Waverly is graded as Class 1, meaning flooding from a breach could cause death and destruction.
The local Emergency Management Agency has notified the one family whose farmhouse is considered in the dam’s floodplain danger zone. It appeared yesterday that they had chosen not to leave yet.
All recreation on the lake has been banned for now, and the people who own the estimated 200 homes around the lake, all upstream of the dam, were ordered to take their docked boats out of the water over the weekend.
Also, Rt. 104 over the spillway has been closed.
A State Highway Patrol plane flew over the land downstream from the dam to the Scioto River, looking for holiday-weekend tent campers. ODNR officers on foot located campers and suggested that they move along.
The water gurgling up from the ground near the spillway is clear, with no sign of mud or debris. McCorkle said that is good news because it means there’s little chance of a sinkhole under the dam that could lead to a breach.
With that information in hand, the engineers don’t think the dam is in danger of giving way.
“It is considered stable,” McCorkle said. Still, she said, the leak is serious.
“This is very fluid,” she said. “A number of things can change very quickly.”
McCorkle called it fortunate that the floodplain is large and mostly agricultural so that if something catastrophic occurs, the danger to humans will be minimal.
As a Class 1 dam, Lake White is inspected by ODNR’s Division of Soil and Water every five years. It was last inspected in 2010 and, other than some erosion, there were no violations or significant problems noted.
Because this is a state-owned dam, park officers check it as part of their weekly routine, and that’s what they were doing on Friday, McCorkle said.
Lake White is a popular spot because the surrounding hills isolate it, adding to its serenity and making it attractive to fishermen. The state park covers 92 acres, with a beach and a picnic area. Under normal circumstances, swimming, boating, water-skiing and fishing are allowed on the lake.
But yesterday, the only ones trolling the waters were officials searching for clues.
ODNR opened the gates on the spillway, and by last night the water level of the lake had dropped about 3 feet. (The lake is about 38 feet at its deepest point and about 12 feet deep close to the shore).
To lower the level further, officials likely will use pumper trucks today to send water into a nearby creek that flows to the Scioto, McCorkle said.
If the lake must be nearly drained, it wouldn’t be the first time.
A problem on the bottom at a shallow spot a few years ago had officials almost emptying the lake, said Sara Lewellen, spokeswoman for the Pike County Emergency Management Agency.
“We were almost at rock bottom a few years back,” she said. “And really, the lake will naturally fill back up pretty quickly.”
For local residents, the leaking is more bothersome than anything, said Lewellen, whose agency hasn’t officially become involved.
“Having to move your boats out of the water on a holiday weekend is an inconvenience,” she said. “But it hardly rises to the level of disaster yet.”