Crystal-clear water is vision for Fountain City Lake

Shannon CareyFountain City

Fountain City Lake will be dry, drained and unsightly until work on a wetland installation is complete, but a close observer will see something beautiful flowing from an unexpected place.

David Hagerman points out channels of clear water from the spring at Fountain City Lake.

July 28, David Hagerman of the city of Knoxville’s stormwater management department visited the lake to check on wetland progress and talk solutions to the lake’s persistent algae problem. He pointed out what the lake kept hidden: the crystal-clear spring that feeds this Fountain City landmark.

The lake’s true hydrology and infrastructure is news to many who grew up in and around Fountain City, most of whom assume the lake is fed from the creek that originates in Fountain City Park. In reality, a powerful spring bubbles up near the pumphouse of the heart-shaped lake, at the hump of the heart farthest away from Broadway.

An overview of the drained lake shows the spring entering the lake at the pump apparatus in the foreground, and the pipe where water leaves the lake far in the background.

A close look today will show clear streams of spring water cutting channels through the muck that lives at the bottom of the lake. The pumps that keep the lake low for construction are pumping cold, clean water directly from the spring.

So, what’s keeping the lake dirty and algae-covered while the spring that feeds it runs clear? There are lots of problems on the lake, but two are stagnant water and pollution. Hagerman said no street runoff gets to the lake because of high curbs.

“The pollution is coming from right here,” he said.

Overfeeding and overpopulation of ducks and geese is the source of that pollution. To put it bluntly, people feeding the waterfowl too much or inappropriate foods make the birds sick. The birds produce more feces, which feeds the algae. It also gives the migratory birds a reason to hang around.

“Why fly to Florida when you have plenty of food right here?” said Hagerman, who encourages moderation in feeding the birds. “Leave the bread and cat food at home. Use the duck food in the machines.”

A channel of clear water from Fountain City Lake’s spring cuts through the muck that lines the bottom of the lake.

Another issue is the way water moves around the lake. When water enters the lake from the spring, it takes the fastest route out through a pipe at the point of the heart, near the intersection of Broadway and Cedar Lane. That makes the hump of the heart closest to Broadway “a dead zone” of stagnant, shallow water ripe for algae bloom.

The wetland project will replace that stagnant area with wetland and add more wetland closer to the spring and along the side of the lake closest to Gentry-Griffey Funeral Chapel. Using the example of putting your thumb over the end of a waterhose, Hagerman said the tighter channel will keep water moving through the lake faster and reduce available nutrients, making it harder for algae to take hold. Native plants in the wetlands will consume nutrients that would feed algae, too.

But, Hagerman cautioned folks that continued care of the lake rests with the community.

“The wetland is part of the solution, but the lake needs to be maintained. You have to tell your neighbors to stop throwing garbage into it. All of this work, all of this money is not going to change the human behavior, and if we don’t do that we’re going to have a very nice cesspool,” he said.

Along with changing their habits around the lake, Hagerman said the community could support the Fountain City Lions Club with volunteer time and donations. The Lions Club maintains the lake and Fountain City Park, neither of which are Knoxville municipal parks.

“Pollution from the 80s,” said David Hagerman of this cassette tape revealed at the bottom of Fountain City Lake.

“They need energetic help. They need people with constructive ideas who are willing to come out and do something about it. Empty trashcans, sweep the sidewalks, there’s tons of things. It’s endless,” Hagerman said.

“I think it’s good that there’s this much interest in water quality. It gives us hope that with that much interest there should be enough public support to make this a success.”

Those interested in helping with the maintenance of Fountain City Lake and the surrounding park with volunteer time or monetary donations should contact Fountain City Lions Club president Roger Byrd at 865-740-9910.

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