Future of Meridian lake uncertain because of high-hazard dam

Anne Snabes / The Meridian Star

A lake in northwestern Meridian could be drained in the future. A dam next to the lake may need to be taken out of service, which would cause the lake to be drained. 

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is considering taking a dam in Meridian out of service, which would drain the water out of a neighborhood lake. 

Lakewood Lake Dam does not currently have an owner, but if an individual took ownership of it and started maintaining it, the lake next to the dam could stay, according to William McKercher, chief of the Dam Safety Division of MDEQ.

The dam, which is made of soil, is in the Druid Hills neighborhood and sits about half a mile east of the Walmart store on Mississippi Highway 19.

The dam is considered high-hazard, which means that if it fails, it could cause loss of life and substantial damage to buildings and infrastructure, according to McKercher. He said that modeling has predicted that 43 residences and 17 businesses would take on water and be flooded if the dam had an uncontrolled breach.

MDEQ inspected the dam in September and found that water was flowing beneath a concrete slab in the dam’s spillway, McKercher said. This could possibly lead to an uncontrolled breach of the dam.

To lower the risk of flooding for downstream residents, MDEQ is planning to breach the dam in a controlled way and drain the lake, unless someone takes ownership of the dam.

If an individual or group becomes the owner of the dam and repairs and maintains it, the lake could stay, McKercher said. In this scenario, the lake may be able retain its current size or may need to become smaller, depending on the owner's plans for the dam.

“But if we’re still in a position where there’s still no party that’s coming forward to be responsible for the maintenance and operation long-term,” McKercher said, “then it’s probably the safer thing for the community to have it (the lake) completely drained and removed.”

He said MDEQ has received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can be used to develop the plans for the controlled breach.

MDEQ is still determining how the breach itself will be funded. One possible source could be another allocation from FEMA. Another possible funding source could be a Mississippi dam safety grant program for high-hazard dams, but it is not yet known whether that program will be funded this year. The State Bond Commission, which will determine whether the program will be funded, meets on Monday.

McKercher does not know the cost of the breach yet, but said a ballpark estimate is $25,000 to $50,000. He will not know the date of the breach until the engineer has finished developing the plan for the project and his agency knows what the funding source will be.

Until the breach takes place, City of Meridian employees are keeping the lake at a lower than normal water level, which decreases the potential for flooding downstream, McKercher said.

It is possible that the breach might only be a temporary change. If a group took ownership of Lakewood Lake Dam after the breach takes place, the dam could be repaired and the lake could return, McKercher said. He explained that the engineer could design the breach so that it could be repaired.

Lakewood Garden Club

A neighborhood organization called the Lakewood Garden Club once owned the dam, but the group had dissolved by the 2000s, according to McKercher.

Eddie Kelly, Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Meridian, said the ideal situation would be for the club to reform and start assessing fees. The club could then use those fees to fix and maintain the dam.

Harold Burney, a resident who lives on the lake, does not want the lake to be completely drained.

He said the water “relaxes your mind.”

“On a nice, breezy, warm day,” he said, “the water’s ripping, the ducks and the geese are out there playing, and you know, it’s nice.”

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