As a student at LSU in the late 1980s, Kinder Baumgardner looked at the Baton Rouge lakes as many people do — a beautiful gateway to the city and university.
On Thursday, as leader of the landscape architects, planners and ecologists tasked with coming up with solutions to the hazards the lakes face, he was looking at them in a different way.
“We really need to think about the long-term health of the lakes,” said Baumgardner, a landscape architect with SWA Group.
SWA Group was chosen by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation earlier this year to work with a team, including Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects of Baton Rouge, to come up with a master plan for the lake’s future. Baton Rouge Area Foundation is paying for the development of the master plan, which will include searches for possible funding sources for construction work.
Thursday started a two-day trip for the landscape architects and others on the team to meet with officials with the city-parish, LSU, the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission and others with an interest in the lakes to hear about their concerns and desires for the lake system.
Residents around the lakes have a variety of things they’d like addressed, including pedestrian safety, traffic and the amount of trash that makes it into the lakes.
Part of the long-term maintenance of the project will need to include ways to keep pollution and trash out of the lakes, Lakeshore Civic Association President George Bayhi said.
Greg DuCote, who live a few blocks from the lakes, added that it’s important for the plan to not only make things pretty, but also to have the lakes function as a healthy ecosystem.
“As a lake, it’s way too shallow to be able to maintain it in a healthy way,” he said. “They look pretty when you drive over the interstate and they are, but they need some help in order to get them healthy and remain that way.”
Chris Schneider, a resident living along the lakes, said he hopes the plan will keep the natural look of the lake surroundings.
“I don’t want to see a crystal-clear lake with fountains,” he said, adding that keeping the lake surroundings as natural as possible is a big part of what makes the lake system special.
Carole Anne Brown, who also lives near the lakes, added, “I don’t want it too commercial.”
Public meetings will be conducted in November and there is a website where the Baton Rouge Area Foundation is taking public input as well.
“This is a gateway not only to the university, but also the city,” said Jeffrey Carbo, a local landscape architect working on the project.
Originally a swamp, the area was cleared and the lakes dug in the 1930s. Since then, runoff from surrounding properties has slowly made the lakes more shallow.
An attempt to dredge the lakes in the 1980s ran into problems because of the number of stumps left underwater when the lakes initially were created. It ended up that the dredges could only cut a channel through the middle of the larger lake, which didn’t provide a long-term solution.
According to a report earlier this year from GEC Inc. of Baton Rouge, the lake depths now range from an average of about two feet to almost six feet. Shallow water gets hotter, which means the water holds less dissolved oxygen. Low oxygen levels can lead to fish kills.
Part of the solution will be making the lakes deeper, although exactly how that will happen depends on a decision whether to drain parts of the lakes before work is done or to dig them out with a dredge with the water remaining.
The lakes also suffer from water quality problems because of water runoff that comes from surrounding properties, the larger watershed and Interstate 10.
“What we need to do is look at using natural systems to help clean that water,” Baumgardner said.
One solution to that is to run the stormwater that would get in the lake through a series of created wetlands to help settle out excess sediment and remove some of the nutrients that can rob the water of oxygen.
Foundation members had a meeting in early September with the lead consultant. Information on a variety of topics have been sent to GEC on issues the foundation would like addressed, including water quality, sources of water to the lakes, drainage patterns and more.
“There’s a lot of discussion around do we need a complete watershed study,” Spain said.
A watershed study can mean different things to different people, he said, and vary on just how comprehensive and expensive it can get.
The master plan the team is starting work on considers above-ground features residents would like to see such as better walking paths, areas for children to play or more places to be able to stop and enjoy the lakes’ beauty. It also will consider what’s going on below the water’s surface.
“If we can get the water quality in the lakes, you could go swimming in the lakes,” Baumgardner said. “Make it more of a community lake instead of a postcard lake.”
Each person will have his own idea of what an improved lake system will look like, but Baumgardner said the goal is to get the lakes to function in a sustainable way so they will thrive for decades.
The master plan, expected to be completed next year, won’t be the last step in the process, but it will set out the vision of what the community and lake owners — LSU and the city-parish — want to see. The next step will be to take that vision and do more intensive engineering and design to work out just how that vision will be accomplished, Baumgardner said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.