From the back of his Waterside Drive home in Peters Township, Tim Silbaugh has a premium view of Canonsburg Lake.

In his line of sight these days is what has become an island.

“That was barely an island with small bushes on it three years ago, and now you can see there are trees that look like they’re 20 feet high,” he said. “On the other side of it, it used to be lake, and now it’s pretty much marsh.”

Kim Rosser, who lives in North Strabane Township along the other side of the lake, made a similar observation.

“My husband and I moved here about seven years ago, and we started kayaking on it. We used to kayak the opposite side,” she said about the channel to which Silbaugh referred, “which I don’t think you can do now.”

Rosser and Silbaugh serve on the board of the Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Association, which has been incorporated as a nonprofit for purposes the group’s name makes evident.

Efforts to save the lake from growing amounts of silt and debris date back nearly 20 years, when North Strabane resident Debra Valentino circulated a petition and collected more than 300 signatures from people who favored restoration.

Since then, a few improvements have been made, such as the 2016 construction of a sediment forebay and rock weir, designed to slow water and facilitate the gravity separation of suspended solids. Undertaking the project was Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which has been responsible for management of the lake since 1958.

But overall, the 76-acre body of water, formed from Little Chartiers Creek by the construction of Canonsburg Lake Dam during World War II, continues to be susceptible to silt collection. And Silbaugh, who chairs the association’s board, warned about the ramifications.

“With the lake disappearing, then the ecosystem just isn’t supported. And as the southern part of the lake fills up, the silt is going to go into the northern part of the lake. It already is, but now you can’t see it,” he said. “It won’t be too many years until you’ll be able to see it accumulating there, and then the northern part of the lake will disappear.”

Members of the association are working on preventive measures.

“Our first goal is to identify how much silt is there and then identify how quickly it’s accumulating, and what we might be able to do with it based on the quality of the silt: whether it can be used in normal circumstances or it has to go to a special landfill,” Silbaugh said. “And then once we’ve done that, we can determine what the cost would be to remove the silt.”

Another consideration, he said, is the Fish and Boat Commission’s upstream installation.

“We need to determine what capacity needs to be in the forebay – how deep it needs to be, how long it needs to be, the width of it, the capacity of it – so it can then function properly with the weir,” he said.

The longer term optimally would feature a comprehensive project.

“It’s going to have to be done methodically,” Rosser said. “You can’t dredge it out unless you can stop the silt process, and you can’t stop the silt process unless you can develop some type of maintenance program on the existing collection of the silt. It’s like a domino effect.”

Such pursuits, of course, are costly. The association has some money in reserve, and members are seeking grants, donations and other sources of revenue toward efforts that would run well into seven figures.

One avenue the group could pursue addresses flood control, which has become a major consideration among communities downstream along Chartiers Creek.

“The engineers advised us that when the capacity of the lake is increased by removing the silt, then that will reduce the flooding,” Silbaugh said. “It will hold more water back from flowing so quickly when there’s a storm.”

Association members also are looking for local champions who would like to help rehabilitate a major Washington County asset.

“A big financial commitment would really move this whole project along,” Rosser said.

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Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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