Repairs to dam provide unique opportunities for student research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Lake Perez at the Stone Valley Recreation Area may be filled again by spring, pending Board of Trustees approval of dam rehabilitation construction costs at its meeting on Friday, Jan. 17. The board's Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning recommended approval of expenditures of $5.5 million for the project at its meeting today (Jan. 16).

The Shaver’s Creek Dam is located on University property at the Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County. The facility supports many Penn State programs including kinesiology classes, fisheries studies and the Conservation Leadership School. The Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center sits on the lake shore and provides nesting habitats for bald eagles and ospreys. Lake Perez also is an important recreational center for central Pennsylvania.

Structural deficiencies in the earthen dam on Shaver’s Creek, which creates Lake Perez, were discovered in 2008, and the lake was drained. The University then made plans to install improvements and mitigation measures to ensure the integrity of the dam. The project scope included embankment repairs, seepage monitoring pits, a grout curtain at the crest of the dam, seepage control trenches and other improvements with a total project cost estimate at that time of $4.1 million. This estimate was based on geophysical investigations that were typical for this type of project.

Since that time, the total project costs have increased to $5.5 million, due to higher than anticipated bids and more extensive bedrock fracturing than originally indicated.

The presence of an empty lake on University property provided a unique opportunity for Penn State researchers to collaborate with the project. Over the past three years, Penn State geochemistry students have conducted research on the environmental influence dams have on hydrogeologic processes. Eleven undergraduates enrolled in Pamela Sullivan’s course Techniques in Geochemistry have installed more than 70 wells made from plastic, hollow, cylinder pipes. The wells are sunken up to 3 meters deep to test for sediment and water quality under the land’s surface. The wells will study the impact of flow and water chemistry as the lake is filled in the spring.

Over the next couple of years, classes will be able to use this data to examine the hydrologic controls of dam restoration on both the surrounding and downstream ecosystem. This research is part of a larger project called the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory, otherwise known as the CZO project. The CZO is a multi-year endeavor focused on understanding the impact of water movement from the canopy of trees through the top layer of earth into the bedrock below. By collecting water quality data at multiple points across Pennsylvania, scientists are better able to understand what impact deep horizontal drilling—including the use of water for hydraulic fracturing—has on the environment. The CZO is a National Science Foundation-funded initiative led by Susan Brantley, Penn State distinguished professor of geosciences.

The Lake Perez dam repair project provides the unusual opportunity to collect data before and after a dam is installed. By partnering with the Office of Physical Plant (OPP), researchers were able to gather critical data and involve students with research efforts on the sustainability of groundwater resources.

Once the full board approves the expenditures, the Layne Geological Construction Co. will complete the dam repairs under the management of OPP. The refill plans have been submitted to the State Department of Environmental Protection, and the refilling will be carefully controlled with constant monitoring of dam performance. After filling, the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission will stock the lake with bass, pike, forage fish and trout.

Penn State geochemistry students will continue to conduct research on lake bottom sediments, this time from boats. Lake Perez operations should return to normal by mid-summer 2014. 

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Last Updated January 21, 2014