The environmental quality of Furman Lake and its environs has been declining for several years, so as part of the “Year of the Environment” celebration, a task force was established to study the lake, identify problems, and suggest solutions. The task force identified four major problems with the lake:

  • Populations of fecal-indicator bacteria were sometimes 50X higher than the upper EPA limit for recreational waters.
  • There were blooms of unsightly algae each summer.
  • There were 362 resident waterfowl on the lake, including 250 Canada geese. A lake this size should have a maximum of 50 waterfowl.
  • The streams were carrying lots of sediment, and the sediment was deposited in the lake. This fills the lake up, making it shallower and warmer.

The task force recommended a restoration plan that would improve the environmental quality of the watershed, in an manner sensitive to the furman aesthetic, with a focus on student engagement and learning.
The task force identified several contributors to these problems:

1. Nutrient loading from surface runoff:

Water running over land after rainfall or watering is called “surface runoff”. This carries nutrients to the lakes and streams. Until 2007 the entire lakeshore was mown to the water line, and the banks of tributary streams were mown or sprayed to remove stream-side vegetation (see photo). Water from precipitation or sprinklers carried nutrients from mown, decaying vegetation, fertilizers, and animal waste directly into the lake and tributary streams. Also, the conversion of forest to lawns during the development of the Amphitheatre and the North Village Dorm Complex, and the denuding of the North Village stream bank, probably caused a dramatic increase in nutrient and sediment loading in that stream and the lake.

2. Direct storm water discharge:

All of the parking areas and roadways in the lake’s watershed have storm drains that empty directly into the lake or the two tributary streams. There are also storm drains in the lawns that surround the lake, and these empty directly into the lake, as well (photo). This storm water collected from roads, parking lots, lawns, and rooftops contributes nutrients, pollutants, and sediments to lakes and streams. These drains have been constructed in part because using the lake as a stormwater retention facility has helped Furman earn LEED points for new building construction. Retaining stormwater on site is certainly an ecologically appropriate behavior. However, transferring it directly to the lake and stream has probably had a dramatic negative effect on these habitats. Storm drains allow water to bypass the normally slow transit through the soil to the water table. Instead, water collected over huge areas is rapidly transferred through drainpipes or channels. This huge volume of water, traveling quickly under high pressure, erodes the lakeshore or stream bank at the point of entry, and contributes nutrients and sediments to the lake and streams.

3. An overpopulation of waterfowl:

Large populations of waterfowl can contribute to the nutrient and bacterial loading of lakes. Furman lake was home to a large population of resident Canada Geese and domestic ducks. They were fed liberally by an adoring public, but they fouled the water and lawns with their feces. On 3 July 2006, there were 362 waterfowl on 28-acre Furman Lake; six times the appropriate density for a lake this size. Canada Geese harbor E. coli bacteria in their gut, and the fouling of the lawns and lake with their feces was undoubtedly a major source of E. coli contamination.

4. High water temperatures:

High water temperatures stimulate algal and bacterial growth (photo of algal mats, at right). At Furman Lake, the lack of vegetation along the lakeshore probably contributed to unnecessarily high water temperatures, especially because the lake is very shallow. Another potential source of heat loading is the stone retention wall that surrounds approximately 50% of the lake. Heat absorbed in the afternoon sun may transfer to the lake.

All of these factors probably contributed to the decline of the Furman Lake environment. Unfortunately, many of the past decisions that Furman made in the lake watershed increased the transport of sediment and nutrients to the lake. Furman is now taking active steps to reduce and reverse these effects.

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