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Stalled dredging effort to begin at Washington County's Canonsburg Lake

| Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, 11:10 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Patrick Flaherty, 65, of South Park fishes Canonsburg Lake Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Matt Kilmer, 35, and his parents Vickie and Jim Kilmer canoe at Canonsburg Lake Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Doug Amos, 51, of McMurray sets up a kayak as Matt Kilmer, 35, and his parents Vickie and Jim Kilmer launch their canoe onto Canonsburg Lake Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.

Jody Walter brought her son to Canonsburg Lake frequently during the summer and still sometimes brings him after school.

Her son, Sailor, 11, who fly-fishes, has fished at the ocean and at many lakes and streams in Western Pennsylvania.

“He just loves fishing, and this is the closest lake to home,” Walter of Mt. Lebanon said. “Moraine State Park or Pymatuning are much longer trips. This lake is an important part of the community.”

Over 72 years, sedimentation and debris have made Canonsburg Lake shallower and its shoreline recede.

Work on a multimillion dollar dredging project is likely to start this year, after 20 months of waiting for permits, said Deborah Valentino, founder and director of the Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Committee.

Bids will be accepted within 10 weeks, and the project will take about six months to complete, Valentino said. The project is being overseen by the Washington County Redevelopment Authority.

“This is one of the most populated areas in Washington County. The lake is a regional asset,” said Valentino, who grew up in Brookline and first fished at the lake when she was about 12, about 50 years ago.

“There was nothing but farms here at that time,” she said.

The lake restoration association has helped raise $1.7 million, short of the $2.1 million needed to stop sediment from filling the 70-year-old impoundment and to remove accumulated silt. Plans are to remove 17,000 cubic yards of silt from the lake and install a sediment forebay and weir, a type of filter, at the upper portion of the lake.

Grants for lake restoration include $60,000 in private donations along with grants from the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Richard K. Mellon Foundation and contributions from both Peters and North Strabane townships.

“It is a recreational lake. People like to fish and observe wildlife. It is heavily used by small boaters, for fishing and for ice skating in the winter,” Valentino said. “Everyone of a certain age has memories here.”

Yet the lake will revert to being a stream, and then a swamp, if work on it is not done.

A tenth of a foot of silt fills the lake annually, raising its deepest point from nearly 43 feet to less than 12 feet and reducing the once 76-acre lake to about 63 acres, according to the Chartiers Creek Watershed Association.

The Washington County lake is more than a local destination, as Walter and others from Allegheny County know.

On Sunday, Chuck White of Green Tree was visiting Canonsburg Lake for the third time this week.

“It's just a nice place to be, nice to be outside. You can talk to people,” he said while sitting at the lake's edge with a fishing rod.

There are nearly 50,000 lakes across the United States, according to the National Lakes Assessment report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

More than 20,000 are man-made — including all 4,690 in the Southern Appalachians region that stretches from Northeastern Alabama to Central Pennsylvania.

Many lakes in Southwestern Pennsylvania were built as part of state park projects from the 1950s to 1970s and for flood control after rising rivers devastated Pittsburgh in 1936.

What is happening at Canonsburg Lake is similar to what was happening at North Park Lake several years ago. Allegheny County officials in 2009 paid to drain, dredge and rehab that lake. The restoration cost $21 million.

Rick Wills is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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