By KAREN JONES CODY
Guests at the tail waters of Carr Creek Lake on Monday couldn’t help but notice a loud pump and a group of official-looking men and women crowded around the base of the dam.
Anyone who saw them should not be alarmed. Corps of Engineers employees were conducting a routine inspection of a part of the lake’s operating structure, and the results were completely positive.
Willie Whitaker, park manager at Carr Creek Lake, explained that lake personnel were inspecting the dam’s stilling basin. This is a concrete pool where water first leaves the dam. It contains “baffle blocks” made of concrete which help slow the water flow. “Water exits with such force, this structure stills it before it goes any farther, and this reduces downstream erosion,” Whitaker said.
The crew used sandbags to hold backwater from the creek as they pumped water from the stilling basin. The pool is normally around 14 feet deep, but on Monday it was reduced to three or four feet – shallow enough to expose the baffle blocks and to allow inspectors to walk all through it.
“We check the basin each year, probing it with a surveyor’s rod from a small boat, and sometimes using divers. What we did Monday is a unique thing for us in the cycle of dam inspections; it’s a pretty big orchestration to accomplish, and it’s very thorough. There’s nothing like having that visual inspection and being able to take time and look carefully at what is ordinarily under water.
“It went really smooth, and we got a good report. The baffle blocks look brand new, and we were proud of that. We hadn’t had this type of inspection since around 1990; the schedule now will be to do it every ten years.”
Whitaker said that any time there are routine inspections, “folks come up and ask, ‘Is everything all right?’ We tell them this is part of ensuring the dam stays stable and is operating properly.”
“People who visit the lake see the attractive things, the fun things – fishing, swimming, boating, picnics. They don’t see behind the scenes and may not realize that a lot of work goes into this – a lot of thought, inspection and maintenance – to see that everything is ready and safe to operate.
“In flood situations, for example, we need to know that we are prepared. What do we do when it floods? We hold back the water. When flash flooding is over, we can release water at a controlled pace. Water is energy, and we need to be able to control that so it doesn’t cause damage.”
Whitaker relates that while a lot of maintenance is concentrated at the dam, outlet, and concrete tower, there are things to consider all over the lake.
“When we draw down water, whether it is for winter pool or flooding, we do it at a timed pace. When the banks are saturated during a flood, we don’t want the water level to fall too fast – this could cause erosion. Erosion is an enemy of the lake and could even affect things like recreation areas.
“When the water treatment plant came on-line and we raised the lake level a foot to compensate for the withdrawal, we installed riprap in different places to reduce erosion,” he added.
Adding the water treatment plant to Carr Creek Lake required some adjustments, Whitaker said, and the higher water level means that the recreation areas at Litt Carr can flood quicker. “But the benefits of the plant far and above outweigh any concerns. I think the water treatment plant is one of the most wonderful forms of infrastructure that has come to our region. It is such an amazing resource.”
Whitaker continued, “I think our county is really blessed. We have so many good things. In addition to the lake and the treatment plant, we have a four-year college, lots of things going on here that are just amazing . . . we have all kinds of things to be proud of.”
Willie Whitaker, who has been park manager at Carr Creek since 2006, says, “I don’t mean to brag, but I love to tell the story – we have one of the best, safest, and most well-maintained lakes in the country. I’m proud of our lake. The job is never done, and we’re always taking care of it.”