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Lake Level Lowered For Repair Of High Hazard Dam

     A large lake in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts has been drawn down to allow for repairs to a dam that state inspectors have classified as “High Hazard.”

    Watershops Pond, also known as Lake Massasoit, covers about 186 acres with seven miles of shoreline. It has been drawn down now to about 20 acres with a depth of no more than four-feet as a prelude to a $2.5 million project to repair the 160-year-old Watershops dam.
             If the dam were to breach, it would cause a catastrophic flood in the city’s south end.
             The concrete and masonry dam was built in the 19th Century to supply hydropower to the Springfield Armory.  The federal government sold the dam to the city in 1969, the year after the Pentagon closed the Armory.
             Plans for the repairs are being finalized and bids for the project will go out over the winter with the work tentatively slated to start this spring, said Pat Sullivan, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which has jurisdiction over the dam and the lake.
             “We have to do the drawdown at this time of year because of the wildlife, so they can safely hibernate,” said Sullivan.
              During the course of lowering the water level, wildlife experts removed more than 30 turtles that would normally hibernate in the lake and will relocate them.
              Six vehicles that were submerged in the lake have already been hauled out, and during the 18 months when the work on the dam is taking place other junk, trash, and debris that has accumulated will be removed.
              Sullivan cautions against people walking out on the lake bed.
              “It is slippery and in some areas you could sink,” said Sullivan.  “The Mill River is still running and we will post warnings about not trying to cross the Mill River because there could be 6-8 feet of water in that channel and someone could drown.”
              Once the dam is repaired and the lake is filled, the city plans to restock it with fish and perhaps build a new boat ramp.
              After being briefed on the plans for the project at a Springfield City Council Maintenance and Development Committee hearing this summer, City Councilor Tim Allen said it will leave the city with an unparalleled resource.
             “I am psyched about this,” said Allen. “Other cities just don’t have a natural resource like this in the middle of a city.”
             Ellen Moorhouse, who lives on Undine Circle along the shore of the lake, urged the city to come with a plan to keep it clean.
             “Trash mediation is a big concern for the neighbors,” said Moorhouse, who urged the city to post signs in multiple languages to discourage people from dumping trash in the lake.
              Funds for the dam repair come from a federal disaster recovery program.   Two years ago, the city completed a $2.4 million rehabilitation of an earthen dam in Van Horn Park that had also been classified as “high hazard.”

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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