Fountain City Lake work nears completion

Shannon CareyFountain City

The artificial wetland project at Fountain City Lake is nearing completion this week as crews finish digging in water-loving grasses, plants and shrubs. Almost $500,000 of city of Knoxville funds has gone into the project, joining around $250,000 for other improvements at the Fountain City centerpiece.

“We are hopeful of a dramatic improvement in the algae reduction at the lake,” said Knoxville stormwater engineering manager David McGinley.

David McGinley and Eric Vreeland of city of Knoxville pause alongside Fountain City Lake. The stone cairn in the background surrounds an escape tube for fish caught in the wetland’s pocket pond.

Environmental regulations prohibited the lake’s maintainers, the Fountain City Lions Club, from using anti-algae chemicals. Lack of funds kept the club from repairing infrastructure at the lake, including a leaky berm and aging fountain pump. The shallow, stagnant water led to even more algae bloom.

The city of Knoxville fixed the berm and fountain, and an approved algae chemical treatment was found, but it still wasn’t enough. The city proposed building artificial wetlands along the north and west sides of the lake to eliminate the most shallow areas and speed up water flow through the lake. They broke ground on the project late last summer. McGinley said he hopes to see plantings complete and the lake back to a normal level by the end of this week.

The wetland structures are gabion baskets filled with rock forming perimeters around the wetlands. The interior of each wetland is filled with rock, a geotextile liner and plant media. Once the lake is filled to a normal level, the rock-filled baskets will be under water. Each wetland will have an interior “pocket pond,” complete with an exit tube for fish to move back and forth between the pond and the lake.The lake has been plagued with algae for many years.

Plants are ready to go into the ground on the north artificial wetland at Fountain City Lake.

Plant species will include button bush, blue flag iris, wintergreen, cardinal flower, soft rush, green arrow arum and straw-colored flatsedge. McGinley said none of the plants will grow more than three or four feet in height, and they’re intended to give the wetlands an attractive, low-maintenance appearance. Over the summer, lake-goers should start to see the plants grow rapidly.

But why sink so much money into Fountain City Lake? McGinley said the lake isn’t just important to Fountain City.

“The lake and the fountain are what Fountain City was named for. We felt it was an iconic place for the city,” he said. “I grew up in South Knoxville, and my parents brough me here to feed the ducks. The lake extends beyond Fountain City.”

He said algae problems at the lake topped the list of phone complaints to the city.

McGinley asked that people do their part to keep the lake clean and healthy now that the wetland project is almost complete. The most important thing, he said, is to feed the ducks from food dispensers at the lake, not bread. The dispensers have a special feed that is good for ducks, geese, and the lake’s population of bass, bluegill and carp.

“Bread causes the ducks to be obese and have brittle bones. It also makes them produce more feces which makes the lake shallower. We encourage people to use the feeders, not only for the ducks’ health but for the lake’s health,” he said.

Edited to reflect that $250,000, not $750,000, had been spent at the lake by city of Knoxville prior to the wetland project.

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